Leading by 10 points in the second half, Vero Beach High School’s boys basketball team stumbled down the stretch as Apopka rallied for a 55-49 win in the championship game of the 34th annual Vero Beach Holiday Hoopla at the John Witt Gymnasium.
Vero had multiple chances to take the lead late, but could not convert.
“We didn’t execute toward the end,” Vero Beach coach Chuck Loewendick said. “They switched defenses but we didn’t handle it very well.
“Game got close and our fundamentals broke down at both ends.”
In a back-and-forth first half in which the largest lead was just six points, Apopka (10-3) raced out to a three-point lead at the end of the first quarter. Vero Beach regained the lead, 24-22 at halftime.
A 10-2 run to start the second half, capped by Javien Cuff’s 3-point goal, pushed the lead to 34-24.
The 10-point lead — the biggest lead of the game — dwindled quickly thanks to Apopka attacking the basket and getting to the free-throw line.
Apopka wasn’t in the bonus in the third quarter, but many of the fouls the Fighting Indians committed were shooting fouls, enabling the Blue Darters to chip into the deficit.
“I thought we took advantage of getting fouled and we shot it well from the line,” Blue Darters coach Scott Williams said. “I thought we did a really good job of getting into some scoring areas and we stayed aggressive.”
With 3:24 remaining in the game, Apopka took the lead for good after Louis converted a three-point play, putting Apopka up 45-42. Louis finished with a game-high 23 points and was named tournament MVP.
The Fighting Indians (6-6) had a couple chances to take the lead late. Down 47-45 with 2:27 remaining after an Alan Glanville offensive rebound, Jacob Bell could not knock down a corner three-pointer.
Down 49-47 with 52.3 seconds remaining after forcing back-to-back Apopka turnovers, Cuff was whistled for charging foul on a drive to the basket.
“We know it’s going to be a grind,” Williams said of facing Vero Beach. “We were very fortunate to play on this kind of environment against a team that’s going to make you really work.”
Cuff led Vero Beach with 12 points. Lewis added 11. Apopka’s Rodney Lubin chipped in 16 points. Lewis and Lubin were selected to the all-tournament team.
The average margin of victory in the tournament was just over eight points.
Vero Beach hopes the stiff competition pays off in the second half of the season.
“Gotta make better decisions in close games,” Loewendick said. “It’s a learning process and we can’t repeat the same mistakes that we made down the stretch”
Lake Gibson 63, Southwest 35: Outscoring Southwest by 19 points in the first quarter, the Braves cruised to a win in the third-place final.
Nick Jiles scored 15 points for Lake Gibson (9-4). Chris Murray scored 11 points for Southwest.
Heritage 51, Lake Mary 50: Giovanni Hernandez’s 3-point play with 5.3 seconds turned out to be the game-winner as the Panthers prevailed in the fifth-place final.
Hernandez had a team-high 16 points for Heritage (8-5). Jared Mowry chipped in with 12 points and was named to the all-tournament team. Brelynd Gilbert scored 16 points for Lake Mary.
Colonial 57, Bishop Fenwick (Ohio) 52: Ish Muhammad hit five 3-point goals and finished with a game-high 21 points and five assists to power the Grenadiers (5-8) in the seventh-place final.
CJ Napier led Bishop Fenwick (3-5) with 14 points.
MVP: Nathan Louis (Apopka, F)
Tommie Lewis (Vero Beach, G)
Nick Jiles (Lake Gibson, G)
Jared Mowry (Heritage, F)
Rodney Lubin (Apopka, F)
Chris Murray (Southwest, C)