FLEMING ISLAND – The Fleming Island High boys basketball success has ridden a wave of fast and furious pace with high-pressure defense for eight straight season opening wins including two in the Battle on the Island Christmas tournament hosted by the Golden Eagles program.
“We knew a game like this was coming and, at least, it got here early and we can take that,” said Fleming Island coach Traavis Chandler. “This was playoff level game in the middle of the season. We beat ourselves; 15 turnovers.”
University Christian High (11-2; losses to Andrew Jackson and Palatka) presented a similar game plan and the tournament final between the two came down to an out of bounds call with 2.5 seconds on the clock that could very easily have been three free throws from Fleming Island sharpshooting guard Gianfranco Grafals.
University Christian wins 51-49.
Fleming Island opened the tournament with wins over Thomas County Central High of Thomasville, GA (71-32) and Atlantic Coast (88-74) to advance.
University Christian defeated Orlando Evans and Farragut Academy out of St. Petersburg to advance and win the final.
Against University, Fleming Island opened the game flat and gave up a 14-6 first quarter lead that put the Golden Eagles offense on defense as the Christian speed was equal to the Golden Eagle press defense.
“We had some dribbling problems and turnovers,” said Chandler, noting five ballhandling errors and a slew of missed shots. “It was loud and fast and we got stuck in second gear instead of getting to fourth gear quickly.”
In the second quarter, Fleming Island started landing jumpers and was figuring the University halfcourt trap defense with 17-12 run getting the halftime score at 24-23.
An alley oop from Sebastian Astor to Grafals got the ball rolling from 16-9 with Grafals snagging two steals to layups from Aaron Brown and Astor tht tied the game at 16-16.
“This game is good to prepare us for the playoffs,” said Astor. “The guys off the bench did a nice job. They stepped up.”
A nifty behind-the-back pass from Khalid Pogue to center Elias Martin put the Fleming Island offense in gear for the final push to the halftime buzzer.
In the third, Pogue would push the pace with back-to-back threes and a steal at half court, with Jordan Miles also hitting a three, but University kept pace to end the third stanza up 39-36.
“I’ve been in a slump the past couple of games,” said Pogue. “Coach just kept keep shooting, it will come.”
In the fourth, Grafals got a three shot foul to tie the game at 39-39 with Pogue hitting another three to put Fleming Island up 42-39 for their first lead.
“We showed some guts in the second half,” said Astor. “Khalid came up big with threes and steals.”
Pogue would get another steal to layup before Marc Inman sunk his first three of the night as Fleming Island looked to pull away at 47-43. Three missed offensive rebounds opportunities and a throwaway pass kept the teams at odds on defense before University hit two uncontested threes to go up 49-47 with minute to go.
“We lost a little focus in those final minutes by not converting the steals,” said Astor. “Both teams ramped up the pressure and we came up short.”
In the final minute, Grafals hit a layup to tie the game but Astor got stung with an offensive charge foul with seven seconds.
With University hitting a jumper to go up 51-49 with 2.5 seconds, Grafals took an inbounds pass near the halfcourt line, spun and threw for an apparent three shot foul opportunity, but officials called him out of bounds on the spin.
Against Thomas County, Aaron Brown led Fleming Island scoring with 16 points with Astor adding 14 with two threes and Grafals adding 12. Elias Martin led on the boards with nine rebounds.
Against Atlantic Coast, Grafals rang up 31 points with Astor adding 21 and Brown finishing with 13. Elias Martin snagged a team-high 14 rebounds with Brown getting 10. Grafals, Martin and Brown all had two blocked shots.