A pair of Class 3A powers matched up last night as Bell Creek Academy travelled north out of the Tampa suburb of Riverview to take on the Lakers of Windermere Prep. This is a match-up of the #1 (Windermere Prep) and #2 (Bell Creek Academy) ranked teams in Class 3A Region 2 and will have major implications in the regional playoff seedings should things play out as expected.
Both teams got off to reasonable starts and a few minutes into the contest, the visiting Panthers of Bell Creek were up 8-6. The game quickly turned at that point as the Lakers went on an 18-2 run to seize a 24-10 lead with just over a minute to go in the first. Bell Creek rallied and scored the final five points of the period to trail by nine at 24-15.
The Panthers grabbed momentum early in the second period. An 8-0 run got them to within one with 5:11 left in the half. Windermere Prep got itself together, scoring four unanswered points to lead 28-23 with four minutes remaining. Play continued at a fast pace and Bell Creek tied the score at 31-31 with two minutes left. The Lakers would be the one to make the push before the break and led 36-33 at the halftime horn.
Windermere Prep maintained a small lead throughout the third period. Their lead was just four, 42-38, at the midway point of the quarter. At the end of those eight minutes, the Lakers’ lead was still just four points at 46-42.
Windermere Prep pushed its advantage to 50-44 with six minutes to play and Bell Creek called a timeout. Midway through the quarter, it was only a three point lead for the Lakers but one minutes later the score was tied at 56-56. With one minute to go, Bell Creek connected on a drive to give them the lead at 60-59. Windermere Prep missed on a drive of their own with thirty-five seconds to play but got new life when they forced a turnover with thirteen seconds remaining. With around eight seconds left, Windermere Prep’s 6’5 junior Chandler Watts drove right from the top of the key to the hoop, scored and was fouled with five seconds left. After a Bell Creek timeout, he connected on the free throw to give the Lakers a 62-60 lead. Bell Creek called another timeout to set up a final shot. Windermere Prep had a foul to give and no doubt they were going to use it.
They didn’t get the chance.
Whether miscommunication by the defense or great execution by the offense, Bell Creek’s 5’11 senior Neil Falconer was able to catch the ball out of the reach of the defense, going full speed. The defender could not catch him to foul him and just two steps over mid-court Falconer let the ball fly toward the hoop. It sailed through clean and Windermere didn’t have enough time to get the ball inbounds to get off a “Hail Mary” of their own. Bell Creek came away with a thrilling 63-62 last second win.
Bell Creek Academy was led by 6’2 freshman Jermal Jones with 23 points. Ben Walker, a 6’0 senior, had 12 points, Falconer finished with 11 points and 6’5 sophomore Caleb Sanders contributed 10 points.
For Windermere Prep, 6’3 freshman Brandon Bass had 22 points while Watts finished with 15 points.
As stated earlier, this game could have ramifications for the regional playoffs. In the past, the rankings that ended the regular season one week prior to district playoffs were used for seeding throughout the playoffs. This year, after district tournaments are concluded, the regional seeding will be based on rankings after the final week of the regular season and the district playoffs. With Windermere Prep currently as the one seed and Bell Creek Academy as the two seed, this win by Bell Creek could flip that barring any unforeseen events in the district tournament for either team.
Going into the game, a trio of freshmen were subplots to the regions one vs. two match-up. All three more than lived up to their billing.
Jones of Bell Creek got off to a slow start, missing his only three shots in the first quarter. From there, he more than made up for lost time. A three level scorer, Jones was impressive in using ball-screens and reading the defense to knock to down jumpers from distance. He has good foot-work and ball-skills to create space to either get off a highly accurate mid-range jumper or get to the basket and finish in a crowd. Jones appears to be a capable ball-handler and thanks to a good frame and athleticism he helps out on the glass at both ends of the floor.
Windermere Prep’s Bass also came alive after the first period. He was 5-9 from beyond the three-point line for the game, each one well beyond the high school arc. The lefty has a quick first step and is a frequent visitor to the foul line. Bass has a long wingspan and knows how to use it on the defensive end. He has good footwork and lateral quickness in guarding ball-handlers and anticipates the passing lanes well.
Sinan Huan of Windermere Prep, a is 7’0 native of China. While he isn’t polished by any means, he has come a long way in a short amount of time when it comes to the game of basketball. He had nine points and six blocks on the night. While he missed on a pair of ill-advised threes, Huan scored once on a nifty drop step, connected on a pair of free throws after driving from the high post, and later scored on an up-and-under move that may have surprised even him. He rebounds his area and runs the floor well. As Huan gains both physical strength and playing experience, his production on the court and recruiting level will definitely rise.