With the Gulfshore Holiday Hoopfest title hanging in the balance, the Wilmette (Ill.)-Loyola Academy boys basketball team turned to a familiar face.
Guard Kevin Cunningham, who displayed his sharpshooting touch throughout the tournament in being named to the all-tournament team, had been held to two points when he delivered a tie-breaking 3-pointer with five minutes to play. He also hit a pair of clutch free throws on the Ramblers’ next possession, and Loyola held off a tough Timber Creek squad down the stretch, 59-50.
“We had faced adversity before this tournament, starting out when our bus broke down on the way here,” tournament MVP Ramar Evans said. “Most people would get shook, but we’ve been through it before. We just kept running our offense and trusted each other, and good things happened for us.”
Evans, a physical point guard, scored 11 points and ran the offense well, just as he did all tournament. The Ramblers (9-5) displayed outstanding ball movement during their four wins at Golden Gate High School, often trimming close to a minute off the clock as they waited for the right shot.
“Our record is all right,” Evans said. “Earlier in the season, we were muddling the line between .500 and just over .500. And that was because we went one-on-one too much and took a lot of bad shots. Two games in a row, it just clicked with us where we had high numbers of assists and we realized, that’s Loyola basketball. Doing all the intangibles, and this tournament we really focused on that and we got the job done on the intangible side.”
The Ramblers also got the job done on the defensive side, particularly in stopping Timber Creek’s top two scorers in all-tournament selections Elwood Tomlinson and Hutton Yenor. Each were held in single digits, and the Wolves had to look elsewhere for points.
“They basically played us in a triangle-and-two,” Timber Creek coach David Jakubcin said. “They would trap them and rotate their other guys, and that’s where we struggled because we just don’t see that much in Florida, as opposed to one of those well-coached Midwest teams like they are.”
The Wolves trailed 32-22 at halftime, but were able to get back in the game, even without much help from their scoring leaders. Point guard Jackson St. John had his best game of the tournament, able to knife inside for layups as the defense was keying elsewhere. The Wolves finally tied the score when Yenor stole the ball and went coast-to-coast for a layup, but Cunningham immediately followed with his 3 and Timber Creek (6-9) never fully recovered.
“They made a great run. They’re a good team,” Ramblers coach Tom Livatino said. “They’ve been playing really well lately. We’ve had some issues finishing games, so this was really important for us to finish this out. I’m really proud of our guys.”
Jakubcin wasn’t as upset with the 3-pointer by Cunningham because the Wolves played tight defense on him. He was more unhappy with what followed.
“The big key on our end of things was we kept turning the ball over,” he said. “We were rushing on offense, and they stopped going to what was working. I told them they were trying to force the play a little bit, as opposed to taking your time and getting it out. We had more turnovers in the fourth quarter than field-goal attempts. When you’re in a close game, you just can’t win like that.”
Livatino said his team had a great time in Naples, although he admitted they were exhausted with all the activities they enjoyed while playing a full slate of tournament games.
“We’re so grateful to be able to come down here and play,” Livatino said. “It’s a great tournament, so well run. Great people. We absolutely loved being here. But, we’re also in Florida and doing a lot of activities. I think our guys are worn out, but they battled through and they finished, which was good.”
Kissimmee-Poinciana 63, Spruce Creek 61: Kimar Edwards scored a game-high 21 points to help the defending Class 5A champion Eagles win a thrilling third-place game against Spruce Creek.
The Eagles (12-3) trailed by seven early in the fourth, before hitting the offensive glass hard and creating multiple opportunities to cut into the Hawks’ lead.
Jacob Newman scored 13 and Josue Padilla added 12.
Spruce Creek (8-4) led most of the way, but never held a double-digit advantage. Turnovers and wild shots plagued them in the decisive fourth quarter.
Hayden Bieri led the Hawks with 18, with Jerry Antoine and Rodney Rhoden contributing 12 and 10 points, respectively. Bieri hit four 3-pointers in the third quarter as the Hawks built a six-point lead, but was held scoreless in the fourth.
Spruce Creek still led by seven when the Eagles went on a 9-0 run early in the fourth to grab a two-point edge. The game remained close down the stretch, with Rhoden hitting a pair of free throws with 1:20 left to give Spruce Creek its final lead of the evening, 61-60.
The Eagles closed the game hitting three of four free throws to take the lead. Rhoden’s desperation 3 as time expired was off the mark.