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The Bartow Yellow Jackets said they weren't afraid of defending 7A boys basketball state champion Blanche Ely heading into the 7A state semifinal Friday afternoon at the Lakeland Center.
None of that mattered to Ely.
Blanche Ely forced 23 Bartow turnovers and rolled past the Yellow Jackets, 71-52, to advance to the 7A state championship Saturday afternoon at 5:05 against Orlando Evans. Evans rallied past Martin County, 53-50, in Friday's earlier semifinal.
Bartow played Ely to a 14-14 tie through the first quarter. USF signee Chris Perry scored six quick points in the first quarter to help Bartow's cause.
But Blanche Ely (26-1) turned the tide in the second quarter, outscoring the Yellow Jackets 21-9 to take a 35-23 lead into halftime. The Tigers never trailed after that in a game that had only one lead change.
"They played better than us today," Bartow coach Terrence McGriff said. "It's on me and the coaching staff. We thought we could handle their pressure but that wasn't the case.
Perry led Bartow with a double-double of 14 points and 12 rebounds, but only eight of those points came after the opening three minutes of the game and Perry only took 11 shots from the floor, making four.
"It's been a lot of hard work since my freshman year," Perry said. "But our goal was to win a state championship and we came up short."
Bartow (27-4) won a state title in Perry's freshman year in 2010, but had a losing record the last two years before a return to the state semifinals this year.
"These seniors have weathered tremendous pressure to get back here," McGriff said. "I am disappointed for them but extremely proud of theirs and the team's effort."
Blanche Ely shot 55 percent and was led in scoring by junior Lance Tejada with 24 points. Tejada transferred to Ely from Miramar where he made an appearance in the state semifinals in Lakeland as a freshman. Senior Dallas Cameron chipped in with 17 points and Kahul Thomas added 13.
Blanche Ely is ranked in the top 20 nationally according to USA Today and MaxPreps. Their opponent in Saturday's 7A title game will be Orlando Evans. Evans slipped past Martin County in the final minute of other semifinal. This is Evans first appearance in boys state basketball championship game since the Trojans last state title in 1975.
Blanche Ely is playing for back-to-back state titles under Melvin Randall. A win Saturday would also give the Tigers their third state title since 2007.