LAKELAND – One cautionary tale many will tell you about playing in the Lakeland Center: it’s a tricky place to make shots.
Because of the roll-away baskets that sit in open space, a shooter’s depth perception is challenged.
Playing on the state final four floor for the first time in school history, McArthur had – arguably – its worse shooting performance of the season Thursday night, only making 34 percent of its shots in a 76-69 loss to Palm Beach Wellington in the Class 8A state semifinals.
Wellington (26-3) will face Oviedo Hagerty Saturday night in the Class 8A state final.
After falling behind by 23 points in the fourth quarter, McArthur made a small push in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to 14 with 3:23 left in the game. The Mustangs got as close as nine before they cut it to 76-69 on a layup in the final seconds.
The Mustangs, which spent a chunk of the season ranked No. 1 in Class 8A, made just 26 of the 75 shots they attempted – including going 3-for-16 from three-point range.
McArthur (23-8) head coach Warren Gale said his team’s poor shooting performance was its undoing.
“This arena is historically a tough place to shoot…and we talked about it,” Gale said. “We told the kids that couldn’t come out here and settle for jump shots away from the rim. We wanted to get the ball on the inside and take advantage of our size and athleticism, but unfortunately we couldn’t take full advantage of it.”
McArthur did make an effort to attack the rim a lot Thursday. However, upon reaching the rim a lot of its layups and point blank shots would bounce around the rim and out.
Senior guard Derric Jean and Terrell Turner each finished with 21 points in the final game of their high school careers. Jean went 7-of-22 from the field, but grabbed nine rebounds. Turner was 7-of-15 and he pulled down six rebounds. Felix Rivera-Vega was the other Mustang to finish in double figures – totaling 11 points with eight rebounds.
The Mustangs built a 19-15 at the end of the first quarter, but saw that lead evaporate in the second quarter thanks to play of Wellington’s Alex Dieudonne. Dieudonne scored 14 of his game-high 22 points in the first half and paced the Wolverines to a 35-29 halftime lead.
McArthur’s deficit grew in the third quarter. The Mustangs only mustered nine points in eight minutes and Wellington’s lead grew to as much as 23.
Wellington point guard Trent Frazier took over in the second half. The team’s leading scorer this season played the role of facilitator Thursday – dishing out a game-high seven assists to along with 19 points and four rebounds.
Lester Gates finished with 14 points and Aaron Kwiatek had 10 for the Wolverines, the No. 2 ranked team in Class 8A.
Gale put the season into perspective.
“No matter what, it was a great season,” Gale said. “We created a lot of energy around the school, the program and the community. We had a lot of fans make the trip up here to support us. In my three years, I had these nine seniors and they did everything we asked of them and they battled and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Class 8A state semifinals: Palm Beach Wellington 76, McArthur 69 – PBW (26-3): Dieudonne 22, Frazier 19, Gates 14, Kwiatek 10, Brown 6, Chen-Young 3, Bureau 2. MCA (23-8): Turner 21, Jean 21, Rivera-Vega 11, Noel 9, Cambridge 5, Tejada 2. Halftime: PBW 35-29. Three-pointers: Frazier 2, Gates, Rivera-Vega, Jean, Cambridge. Fouled out: Tejada, Escobar.