The top two teams in the Florida High School Athletic Association’s (FHSAA) rankings for Class 7A faced off in Orlando as #1 Oak Ridge came across town to #2 Dr. Phillips. Both teams had only one loss on the season and on paper it certainly looked to be an intriguing matchup.
The start of the game found both teams a bit over-hyped and the first three possessions for each was either a miss or turnover. It looked like Oak Ridge’s 6’4 senior Jalen Smith was going to get the first points of the game at the six-minute mark after coming up with a steal and looking to have an easy breakaway. That didn’t happen as a DP player closed the gap and was able to get up and challenge Smith’s dunk attempt. A foul was called as both players went down. While the DP player got up, Smith didn’t. He was on his back with both arms up around his ears. He stayed on the ground as trainers worked on him. The decision was made to call in paramedics. After a delay of nearly thirty minutes, Smith was taken off on a stretcher with each arm in an air cast. Thankfully, there was no head or neck damage. It was revealed later in the evening that the fall broke both wrists and more than likely puts the SMU signee out for the remainder of the season.
Play resumed with Jamari Sands of Oak Ridge knocking down the two free throws that Smith earned for the first points of the game. Jeremiah Bannister of Oak Ridge scored inside for Oak Ridge before DP’s Denzell Aberdeen scored in a drive to get the Panthers on the board. Oak Ridge’s Mike James hit a three to give the Pioneers a 7-2 lead with four minutes left to play in the opening quarter. For the remainder of the period, DP would edge closer, only to have the Pioneers respond. After the first eight minutes, Oak Ridge was up six at 14-8.
Oak Ridge quickly built that lead to ten as 6’3 junior Fabio Basili scored on a drive and Bannister put back an offensive rebound. Meanwhile, DP continued to have difficulty getting good looks due to the Pioneers trapping defense. Aberdeen finally hit a three for the Panthers. The margin was still ten, 22-12, at the four-minute mark. At that point, Elijah Elliott, a 6’2 freshman for Oak Ridge, drove the lane, hit a floater, was fouled, and converted the thre- point play. The Panthers were down thirteen, their largest deficit. Senior Eathen Williams of DP hit a late three to bring the margin back down to ten. At the half, Oak Ridge led 25-15 and there were serious questions as to whether or not DP could generate enough offense in the second half to make a comeback.
Those questions were quickly answered. Ernest Udeh, a 6’9 junior threw down a lob on a set play to open the third. Williams hit another three, and 6’5 junior Riley Kugel scored inside to make it a 7-0 run and a three-point game at 25-22. Basili of Oak Ridge stopped the run with a drive and finish in traffic, but Williams then knocked in his third three of the game and Kugel converted a pair of drives. DP now had its first lead of the game at 29-28 with under four minutes left in the third. That lead didn’t last long as Sands got a steal and score and James converted a pair of free throws, then scored on a drive to give the Pioneers a five-point lead. Oak Ridge would hold onto that lead the rest of the period. With one quarter to play, it was a whole new ball game with Oak Ridge leading by just three at 37-34.
As expected, the final quarter contained the excitement we had expected from the outset of the contest. We pick it up with 4:30 left in the game and the score tied at 41-41. Lewis Jones, a 6’6 junior scored on a drive to give Oak Ridge the lead. DP responded with the same set play they opened the half with and the result was the same: a lob dunk by Udeh. James of Oak Ridge hit one of two free throws but the Pioneers fouled Aberdeen on the other end. He made both free throws to give the Panthers a 45-44 lead. With just over one minute to play, Kaleb Thomas of Oak Ridge connected on a three to give his team a 47-45 lead. DP worked the ball to get a good shot on their next possession. Aberdeen found the lane to the basket he was looking for and scored with thirty-five seconds left to tie the game at 47-47. Oak Ridge took a time out to work up a play, then DP took a time out just before the Pioneers inbounded the ball to set the defense. Oak Ridge’s first option off the inbounds didn’t appear. Basili found himself with the ball with around seven seconds on the clock. He found an open lane and drove hard to the rim. A DP defender came over to challenge the shot and it looked to be a clean block. However, the referee had a better angle and called goal-tending. Oak Ridge had a two-point lead, 49-45, with just 3.3 seconds showing on the clock. DP would have to go the length of the court in a short amount of time. After using their last time-out, DP got the ball to a player on the move. It looked like he might get off a respectable shot just across half-court, but at the last moment, he decided to pass it to a teammate next to him. The teammate wasn’t prepared for a pass and the ball bounced off his hands and away as the horn sounded. Oak Ridge came away with a harrowing 49-47 win, keeping their top ranking intact.
Oak Ridge was led by James with 18 points while Basili had 11 points.
For DP, Williams has 11 points and freshman Jordan Tillery had 10 points.