ORLANDO - Back in the NBA heydays of big men like Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, basketball success came from having a big man in the paint just back it up and throw in short jumpers and layups with power.
For Fleming Island High School, it was Melbourne High 6'-4" power forward Carlin Gelin; note 'power' with Gelin's 225 pounds of muscle, that became the immovable force under the basket as the Golden Eagles put their high-octane game to the test, but fell short 65-60 in a Hoops to Heart Showcase contest held Saturday at Oviedo High School. The loss was Fleming Island's first of the season, 3-1, while Melbourne stayed unbeaten at 5-0. Fleming Island, 8A last year and a state semifinalist, is now in 6A while Melbourne, an 8A region semifinalist last year, is also in 6A.
"The first three games were good for us, but today will be a really different," Fleming Island High head coach Traavis Chandler. "We led for two and a half quarters then allowed them to take their first lead deep in the third. I'll shoulder that because I probably could have used more bodies. This is why you play these games."
In the first quarter, with senior Sebastian Astor as offensive point man, Fleming Island rocketed to a 27-20 lead with Astor hitting for 11 points and 6'-4" Aaron Brown out-hustling the much-sturdier Gelin underneath for a breakaway dunk and some induced free throws off fouls to Gelin.
A buzzer-beater three pointer from Melbourne guard Josh Mims was a prophetic reminder to the Fleming Island defense that the Bulldogs, 5-0, were not easily distracted from their game.
Fleming Island, though, kept their foot on the gas pedal and kept the Bulldogs at bay as both teams resorted to slow-dancing to single digit numbers for the second quarter with the Golden Eagles still up 34-29 at the break.
Melbourne got as close as 32-29 with Gelin starting to use his back up and spin move with more efficiency and Donald, Ahman Greenidge and Elias Martin struggling to find a defensive foothold.
Astor was held to just one layup for the second quarter.
"Careless fouls were committed by us in the first half in the game despite 27 first quarter points," said Chandler.
In the second half, Melbourne started camping with Gelin underneath and Astor unable to get a ball through the hoop until the final shot of the quarter.
Melbourne closed the game to a 36-36 tie early in the third period then stretched ahead to a 45-42 lead at the buzzer.
With a decision for the fourth quarter, Chandler had to find a solution for Melbourne's inside game and also to find a hot hand on the perimeter.
"I thought we got a little fatigued in the fourth," said Chandler. "Playoff caliber teams prepare you for playoffs. We have to be more patient in our zone offense."
Early in the fourth, Jordan Miles popped his first three-pointer to close the gap to 46-45 with Astor picking up an offensive rebound to layup to keep the game at one point; 48-47.
Two free throws from Martin kept the game at 50-49 as Fleming Island fans waited for the fourth quarter explosion of points as part of the Golden Eagle attack reminiscent of graduated Gianfranco Grafals.
"I think most of the guys have stepped up to spread out what he (Grafals) used to do late in games," said Chandler. "We think we have a more balanced approach."
Melbourne kept chipping away with their underneath game with Brown adding a strong rebound to layup at 52-51 and Steele Perry banking in a three-pointer to keep the game at 56-54.
Melbourne captain Reggie Hill provided the dagger with his first three pointer of the night that gave the Bulldogs enough cushion with Miles and Astor both missing threes down the stretch as Melbourne answered each miss with a two Gelin layups to push the game to 63-56 in less than a minute.
Astor would finish with two breakaway layups against Melbourne's prevent defense to end the game; 65-60.
Fleming Island's schedule stays rugged with Bolles visting Tues., Dec. 10 and Oakleaf on tap for Fri., Dec. 13 at Oakleaf. Fleming Island then hosts the Battle of the Island Christmas Tournament Dec. 19-21 before heading to South Carolina Dec. 26-28 for the Brookland-Cayce Roundball Classic in Lugoff, SC.
Brookland-Cayce High School will host the three-day tournament at its newly-constructed gymnasium. The Cayce Roundball Classic is scheduled for Dec. 26-28 and feature 16 teams from 3 states competing in 2, 8-team brackets.
Local teams representing Chronicle Country along with the host team include Dutch Fork (5A, 4-1), Gilbert (3A, 0-2) and 2-time defending Class 2A champion Gray Collegiate Academy (2A, 4-0), A.C. Flora (3A, 3-1), Lower Richland (4A 4-1), Conway (5A, 2-2), Lugoff-Elgin (5A, 2-5), Fairfield Central (3A, 1-3), Westwood (4A, 5-0), Hammond (3A, 1-1), C.A. Johnson (2A, 0-4) and South Aiken (4A, 2-2) round out the Palmetto State representation.
Lakeside out of Atlanta (7A, 5-4) and Westside (3A, 4-4) high schools out of Georgia and Fleming Island (6A, 3-1) (Fla.) are the out-of-state teams.