JACKSONVILLE – With a frenetic front court pressing defense that seemed on the verge of disaster, the Fleming Island High boys basketball team blew up their first two preseason matches with wins over Ed White and Ribault, a 6A region finalist last year, in the Raines High Preseason Classic held Tues., Nov. 21 and Wed., Nov. 22 in Jacksonville.
“We’re excited about the level of pace we will be pushing this season,” said Fleming Island coach Traavis Chandler. “We did well with it over the summer and I think we have the depth to pull it off.”
In game one, against Ed White, the Eagles got a 25 point effort from senior guard Gianfranco Grafals who pushed the Eagles to a 63-38 win.
Against White, the Eagles blasted the basket with stanzas of 15 and 16 points to go into the lockers up 31-14.
“We tried to slow it down in the third then got some great play in the fourth from our younger kids,” said Chandler as White held the score in check with a 10-7 third quarter scoring advantage before Chandler unloaded with a 25-14 fourth quarter.
Against Ribault the next night, the Eagles got halfcourt defensive dominance in their frenetic attack with junior Sebastian Astor taking the point position for 21 points to lead the Eagles. Also, from the outside senior guard Khalid Pogue got hot from the three-point stripe with four buckets from downtown part of his 14 total points. Grafals finished with just nine points in limited court time.
The first half of the Ribault game saw disastrous free throw shooting from Fleming Island with nine of 22 shots falling.
“I told them to take a deep breath when they got out there in the second half,” said Chandler. “We hit those free throws, we score 90 points. It’ll come. I want to keep the pace very high and they have to learn to just slow themselves down at the free throw line.”
Against Ribault, Fleming Island opened a lightning-fast 6-0 lead with Logan Cotton hitting his first jumper and Pogue bagging his first three pointer in the first 30 seconds of play.
Ribault kept pace to tie the game at 12-12 before taking the lead, 16-12, as the first quarter ended.
After a timeout by Chandler, it was Jordan Miles responding with rebounds and a key assist to Steele Perry for a three pointer that put the Golden Eagles up 21-20.
“We stole the momentum there,” said Chandler.
From there, Fleming Island surged to a 26-20 lead into the lockers with Grafals and Pogue swiping in bound passes by Ribault and converting with layups.
Six foot, four inch center Elias Martin finished with 10 rebounds to lead Fleming Island.
After the break, another Pogue steal fed Perry for a jumper to 28-22 with Miles again pulling in an offensive rebound for a layup to put 30 on the scoreboard.
Astor, with six steals on the night, put up six points in a two minute span off free throws and a steal to layup as Fleming Island pushed to a 37-28 lead.
“Our depth is going to be key when he hit our elite team schedule,” said Chandler. “We have to be more consistent in our steals to layups to make our pressure defense work.”
With Fleming Island meeting Ribault with three defenders at the half court stripe and maneuvering for two-man traps, Ribault had no answer as the score flew to 55-36 into the fourth quarter.
Fleming Island opens regular season play at Ridgeview on November 29 with the Golden Eagles traveling to the Jackie Simmons Classic at Andrew Jackson High School on December 1 to take on 8A region finalist Tallahassee Lincoln. The first week of December has district foes Bartram Trail, Buchholz and Oakleaf on the Fleming Island docket.
Creekside, with nine senior players graduated, was the district 4-8A champion over Bartram Trail last year before finishing as Class 8A runnerup to Blanche Ely. Creekside beat Lincoln in the region 1-8A championship last year.
Oakleaf opens regular season play at Ponte Vedra on Wed., Nov. 28.