The book on Blanche Ely this season was supposed to be a pretty simple one: “stop Michael Forrest, stop the Tigers”.
Holding the high-scoring senior to just 13 points – zero in the second half – should’ve been enough for McArthur to at least be in a close game with the Tigers.
Forrest’s teammates did much more than “pick up the slack” Friday – senior guard Anthony Byrd scored a game-high 23 points and senior forward Wilkenson Isnord notched a double-double of 13 points and 12 rebounds to propel Blanche Ely to an easy 89-65 victory over the visiting Mustangs in the region 4-8A final.
Ely, which is making its fifth trip to the state final four in the past eight years, will face St. Petersburg High (24-5) next Friday (March 9th) in the Class 8A state semifinals in Lakeland’s RP Funding Center.
Forrest, who came into Friday’s game averaging just under 25 points per game this season, routinely drew multiple defenders as he tried to maneuver around the court. McArthur made a point of keeping defenders in his face, holding the 6-foot-1 guard to just 4-of-18 from the field (1-for-7 from three-point range) and forced him into five turnovers.
Byrd took advantage of the extra breathing room, as did senior Joshua Scott – who scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half while also snatching down six board. Even through his scoring troubles, Forrest affected the game with his seven rebounds and game-high five assists and five steals.
Forrest, who along with Scott are the only players on this year’s Ely team that were a part of the 2016 state championship team, said he was glad to see his teammates have better offensive nights than him.
“It was great to see my teammates have my back and step up. I already knew I could depend on them,” Forrest said. “It was great tonight because I had a tough time scoring, so all I had to do was get them the ball.”
Blanche Ely head coach Melvin Randall, who has led Ely to five state crowns during his tenure, said that getting the contributions from the other players Friday was “just what the doctor ordered”.
“It was good for those guys to step up like that…it gives them a lot of confidence,” Randall said. “A lot of people do think that we only have [Michael] Forrest, but they showed tonight that we do have a lot more than just him.”
McArthur (15-15), a team that had reached the regional final round in each of the past two seasons, did its best to stay close to the Tigers early on.
The Mustangs only trailed 19-13 at the end of the first quarter, but they had a hard time operating their offense during the second quarter because of Ely’s intense full-court press. McArthur committed nine turnovers in the second quarter alone and the Tigers went on an elongated 18-4 run – ultimately pushing their halftime lead to 47-24.
McArthur never got closer than 16 points during the second half thanks to Ely’s continued defensive pressure. Mustangs senior guard Jacob Narvaez led with 18 points and 11 rebounds and junior Javier Zapata added 14 points off the bench, but the team shot 23-for-59 (39 percent) from the field and committed 29 turnovers.
Randall said that he’s confident in his group as they are among the final four teams standing in Class 8A.
“We missed out [on the state final four] last year,” Randall began. “But the team has been working hard all year to get be in this position. We built a tough schedule so we could really test this team. I could make a 20-win schedule every year but that wouldn’t benefit us at all.”
“Our guys have played a lot of basketball…in Georgia and all over Florida and its paid off. They deserve it.”
Region 4-8A Final: Blanche Ely 89, McArthur 65 – MCA (15-15): Narvaez 18, Zapata 14, Howard 10, D. Francois 5, Labastille 4, Ward 4, Woodstock 4, Choi 3, Dean 2, Lindsey 1. BE (22-8): Byrd 23, Scott 17, Isnord 13, Forrest 13, McCutcheon 9, B. Francois 7, Rainer 3, T. Francois 3, Wright 1. Halftime: BE 47-24. Three-pointers: Byrd 2, Howard 2, Zapata 2, McCutcheon, Forrest, T. Francois, Narvaez, D. Francois. Fouled Out: Choi, D. Francois. Technical Fouls: None. Rebounds: Isnord 12. Assists: Forrest 5. Steals: Forrest 5. Blocks: Scott 2.
Late Free Throws Lift Miramar Over South Miami
After the way his team won its regional semifinal game – narrowly hanging on to capture a 68-64 victory after leading by 20 in the fourth quarter – Miramar head coach Tremaine Stevens said his team had to do a better job of executing down the stretch of games.
His Patriots did him proud Friday, hitting eight free throws over the final 90 seconds of a previously-tied game to come away with a 54-48 win over visiting South Miami – punching Miramar’s ticket to the Class 9A state semifinals.
It’s only the second time in school history that the Patriots, who will face Palm Beach Wellington on March 9 at Lakeland’s RP Funding Center (formerly The Lakeland Center), have reached the boys state basketball final four.
Immanuel Crump and Damian Miller each scored 12 points to lead the Patriots while Brandon Spaulding added 10 points off the bench.
Region 4-9A Final: Miramar 54, South Miami 48 – SM (26-4): T. Dean 13, Damon 11, Bujon 8, Flenor 6, Cerphy 5, Menendez 5. MIR (27-3): Crump 12, Miller 12, Spaulding 10, Mills 9, Bry. Davis 5, Bre. Davis 4, Moore 2. Halftime: Tied 23-23. Three-pointers: Bujon 2. Fouled Out: None. Technical Fouls: None. Rebounds: Bry. Davis 6. Assists: Mills 3.
Region 3-9A Final: Palm Beach Wellington 55, Deerfield Beach 41
Region 4-6A Final: Leesburg 75, Stranahan 43
Region 4-5A Final: Davie University School 66, Miami Booker T. Washington 43