Alen Hardy knew the RP Funding Center could pose problems for Davie Western. The expansive arena holds a reputation for the way it messes with shooters’ depth perception, and the Wildcats, who don’t start anyone taller than 6-3, need to make shots from deep to win.
In the fourth quarter of the Class 7A semifinals, their shooting woes finally caught up to them and Western fell to Dwyer 58-54 in its first trip to the boys’ basketball final four.
“We’re a three-point shooting team. That’s why we’re here,” Wildcats coach Alen Hardy said. “If we’re not making threes, it hurts us a little bit.”
Western (14-8) went 3 of 21 from three-point range and shot 1 of 18 from the field in the fourth quarter to blow an eight-point second-half lead to the Panthers (14-3) in Lakeland.
The Wildcats went more than eight minutes without a field goal, from the final minute of the third quarter until guard Gary Adam hit a three-pointer with 12.3 seconds left, and, by then, they were out of time for a miracle comeback in the state semifinals.
Adam led all scorers with 21 points, but no one else scored more than nine as the Wildcats’ best season ever ended just short of a trip to the 7A championship.
Instead, Dwyer will face Orlando Dr. Phillips in the state title game Saturday.
“I feel like we got at the rim, got great shots — wide-open shots,” Adam said. “We just didn’t knock it down.”
For the entire first half, neither team separated itself by more than five points. Western finally built a 38-30 lead with 4:31 left in the third quarter and the Panthers started to chip away. With 5:09 left, Dwyer post player DJ Jones hit two free throws and the Panthers took their first lead of the second half at 47-46.
The Wildcats went 4:30 without scoring after Western guard Landon Boggus made a shot with 41 seconds left in the third quarter. Guard Kamdyn Ayers finally ended the drought with a free throw with 4:11 left, but he only went 1 of 2 and Western still trailed 50-47.
The Wildcats went just 5 of 12 at the free-throw line in the fourth quarter as the semifinals slipped away.
“We just stalled out a little bit,” Hardy said. “We were still getting to the basket, we were still getting the shots that we wanted, they just weren’t falling toward the end. Guys’ legs started giving out a little bit. We just didn’t get the execution toward the end that we expected.”
Adam’s three in the final seconds cut Dwyer’s lead to 58-54, and Western got the ball right back when it double-teamed and drew an offensive foul. With 9.3 seconds left, the Wildcats inbounded from beneath the basket and guard Jullian Lewis got a wide-open look from the corner.
His shot banged off the rim again. The Wildcats went 1 of 10 from three in the fourth quarter and headed home to Davie without a medal.
“We got everything we wanted,” Hardy said, “we just didn’t execute toward the end.”