With the Henderson twins — Demari and Ja’Cari — battling foul trouble much of the game Tuesday night, Sanford Seminole needed someone to step up in its Class 7A regional semifinal against St. John’s Bartram Trail.
Jonah Pierce and Uchenna Kellman-Nicholes did just that as the Seminoles fought for a 72-49 homecourt victory.
Seminole (16-7) will now face Dr. Phillips (21-3) in Orlando for the region title Friday night.
Pierce, a 6-foot-7 senior, took over in the paint, scoring 24 points and pulling down nine rebounds. Kellman-Nicholes provided the spark in the first half and scored 14 points as the ‘Noles pulled away from a tight game early on.
“I felt pretty good. I was going against the big guy so I knew I had to step up,” Pierce said of his battle with 6-foot-10 Bartram center Alijah Kuehl. “I’m not used to playing against bigger people than me, obviously, so with the competition I had to step up.”
Seminole coach Sylvester Wynn was pleased with his big man’s performance.
“Jonah did a great job. He’s been working all week on some different stuff and he came out and put it all to work tonight,” Wynn said. “He controlled the boards and didn’t get in foul trouble with that big guy, as well.”
Kellman-Nicholes said that with the Henderson twins spending time on the bench at different stages of the game, he knew he had to provide his team a lift.
As the two teams battled throughout the first two quarters, Kellman-Nicholes jump started the offense when Seminole needed it. He buried a pair of 3-pointers, one of which was at the halftime buzzer, to help the ‘Noles gain a 30-21 lead at the break.
“It feels good. We played defense well and we communicated well and got the stops we needed, so we won the game overall,” Kellman-Nicholes said. “It was too close of a game [in the first half], so I knew I needed to step up and hit those shots so we could get on a run.”
Seminole’s full-court defensive pressure forced 19 Bartram Trail (12-14) turnovers and led to numerous fast-break buckets. Leading 39-25 midway through the third period, Pierce banked in a deuce, then had a dunk off a pass from Ja’Rayvon Peters, scored on an athletic reverse and hit a free throw to cap seven straight points and Seminole was rolling. Peters added 13 points.
Wynn also lauded Kellman-Nicholes.
“He’s a pretty decent player all the way around. He rebounds well, he handles the ball well, shoots well. He does all the little things well that caused us to win,” Wynn said. “He’s going to be an outstanding player. He hit a couple of 3s that put us at a more comfortable position.”
Now it’s on to DP, and the second-ranked Panthers will be quite a task for the Seminoles. Only Oak Ridge has a higher MaxPreps power rating among 7A teams in Florida.
“We haven’t played them this year yet, but I’ve seen them a little bit,” Wynn said. “We just have to work on getting ready. This is what it’s all about. Championship game playoff time. It is what it is. Best team wins.”
Pierce thinks he might know who that best team will be.
“We have a really good chance to win states. As long as we win next game, I feel like we can win state,” Pierce said.