One team is seeking perfection to go along with a state title. The other is looking for its third consecutive state championship. Tallahassee Rickards is the only team in the state that can claim a perfect season to this point. Fort Lauderdale Pine Crest features the top player in the nation in guard Brandon Knight. Something had to give in the Class 3A Final.
Rickards' Chris Bryant opened the scoring by hitting two free throws after being fouled on the break. Pine Crest would score the next six points in the contest as Trae Henry and Tevin Westbrook each knocked down two free throws and Billy Thompson put back on offensive rebound. Jakari Busch hit a layup for Rickards but that was answered by a transition basket from Westbrook. With 3:46 remaining in the quarter, it is clear that Brandon Knight is favoring his left leg that was hurt yesterday in the semi-final. Devonte Johnson hit a three and then Bryant tossed in a nifty jump hook to bring Rickards to within one. Henry hit one of two free throws for Pine Crest but after a turnover Bryant got loose for a transition basket and after one quarter of play the score was tied at eleven.
Pine Crest scored the first seven points of the second quarter as Thompson scored in transition and then hit a three. This was followed by two free throws from Knight, his first points of the game. Rickards then responded with an 8-0 run of their own as Johnson hit two treys and Bush stole an errant pass and scored at the other end.
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Rickards now had a 19-18 lead with 4:44 to go in the second. Pine Crest took the lead back with a three point play by Brett Buzzard. From there, Rickards went on a 10-4 run, eight of which were scored by Avery Moore on a mid-range jumper and two threes. Rickard headed into the locker room with a 29-25 halftime lead.
Knight got untracked to start the third quarter. He scored on a jumper in the lane, hit two free throws on a drive then scored in transition. However, Moore continued his hot shooting from deep, knocking down two threes. Bush scored in transition to push the lead to six before Knight hit one of two free throws. Moore again struck with a three but then Westbrook scored inside, Knight hit a free throw and then scored in transition to cut the lead to four, 42-38 with one minute left in the third. Moore was fouled on a jumper and hit two free throws for Rickards. That was followed by an offensive rebound basket by Matt Milk. With two seconds left in the quarter, Bush was fouled on the drive, hit one of two free throws and with one quarter remaining, Rickards was up 45-40.
Knight scored for Pine Crest to open up the final period. Bush again drove to the basket, was fouled, and converted one of two free throws. He missed the second but Rickards got the rebound, Bush was fouled again on a drive and this time hit two free throws. Julian Hernandez of Pine Crest hit mid-range jumper on the break and with 6:44 left Rickards had a 48-44 lead. Johnson of Rickards hit a three on the next possession. Then disaster struck for Pine Crest. Knight picked up his fourth foul driving to the basket. With Rickards now in the bonus, they decided to pull the ball out and use their speed and quickness to shorten the game. It was now up to Pine Crest to play chase. They weren't up to it.
Rickards either scored at the rim or knocked down free throws while was unable to score but two Knight free throws. With one minute to play, Knight committed his fifth foul. It was a disappointing end to an otherwise tremendous career. A close game with one quarter left to play ended in a blowout as Rickards capped a perfect season with a 70-46 victory and Florida Class 3A state title.
"We got beat, plain and simple", said Pine Crest Head Coach David Beckerman. "Rickards got on a run and gained confidence. Our game plan had to change somewhat due to Brandon's injury. In fact, there was an "intense discussion" as to whether or not he would play. He said he could go so he went."
"It was frustrating to not be able to do play to the level I'm accustomed to", said Knight. "I gave it the best shot I could."
For Rickards, head coach Eli Bryant wasn't surprised at the outcome.
"We fully expected to win", said Bryant. "The only thing we are surprised by is that we ran the table. This is a great group of kids both on and off the court. The starters have a GPA over 3.0. Even Knight was at 100%, we still would have won. I have no doubt of that."
For Pine Crest, Knight led the way with 18 points. Westbrook chipped in with seven.
For Rickards, Avery Moore led the way with 23. Bush followed with 17 and Devonte Johnson had sixteen.