Tony Green, left, and Max Youmans (2) leave the Naples High court after the Golden Eagles' 59-56 loss to Jesuit in Friday's Class 5A regional final. GLENN CHRISTOPHER/SPECIAL TO CSI
Naples High certainly won the eye test in Friday’s regional final against Tampa Jesuit, which looked more like a good YMCA team compared to the Golden Eagles, who looked all the part of a regional finalist with their length and athleticism.
But it was clear early on that the stocky, scrappy Tigers came to play, as they took an early lead and seemed to punctuate every Naples rally with a 3-pointer of their own. When the dust settled, Jesuit scored a 59-56 road win and denied Naples a second straight trip to the Class 5A state semifinals.
Jesuit hit 12 3-pointers — accounting for 36 of its 59 points. Add in an impressive 83 percent free-throw shooting performance, and you can see why the Tigers are headed to the Final 4.
Naples, which battled all night long, is a team that’s used to flexing its muscles when trailing and pulling victory from the the jaws of defeat. On Friday night, they came up just short.
“We fought back quite a few games this year,” a dejected Naples coach Garrett Hull said after the game. “They definitely have the fight in them. We were down 14 and were able to come back and tie it up.”
The Golden Eagles (25-5) employed their vaunted press throughout the game, but the Tigers (25-4) frequently broke it and capitalized by knocking down wide-open 3s. Senior Jack Delp hit six of his seven 3-point tries to lead Jesuit with 18 points.
“We had to beat the pressure,” an elated Jesuit coach Neal Goldman said. “We had enough in the end — we beat the pressure at the end when we needed to and got the big stop on them at the end.
“We needed (the 3-pointers). Because they press, the threes were wide open. So we needed to make them.”
The Eagles turned the ball over frequently in the first half as Jesuit jumped out to a 14-8 first-quarter lead.
“I think they settled down as the game went on,” Hull said. “That’s a big game right there. There’s a lot of pressure.”
Naples trimmed its deficit to four early in the second quarter only to see Jesuit score five straight to make it 25-16.
Junior Devin Moore helped keep Naples in it with his clutch play in the first half. His 8-foot hook shot included an and-1 free throw to pull Naples to within 25-19 at halftime. The Golden Eagles had a chance to pull even closer but were called for traveling as they attempted to hold for the final shot.
“He doesn’t get enough lovin,’” Hull said of Moore, who’s been garnering major Division I football interest while starring as a defensive back for Naples in the fall. “I feel like Moore was the missing piece. I feel like if we had Moore last year we would have won state. Unfortunately, he broke his wrist at the beginning of last season while playing football. But what a kid … and I mean all-around. He’s a 4.0 student. He’s the nicest human being I’ve ever met and had the opportunity to coach. Whatever school gets him is getting a special one there.”
Jesuit was game planning to stop Naples’ 6-foot-5 senior standout Tony Green. It seemed to be working in the first half as the athletic senior was held to five points.
“We did not want to let Tony Green take over the game,” Goldman said.
Green asserted himself in the second half en route to leading all scorers with 24 points. He had seven points in the third quarter, then exploded for 12 in the fourth. With 3:30 left in the game, he drove the right baseline and scored a thunderous dunk that ignited both the crowd and his teammates. He added the and-1 free throw and, suddenly, the Golden Eagles had trimmed the Tigers’ lead to 53-51.
“Green does step up down the stretch,” Hull said. “He’s a gamer. When the game’s on the line, he wants the ball in his hands. He does a great job. That slam really gave us a spark. Oh, boy, what a slam. He can get up.”
The Naples press worked on Jesuit’s next possession as the Golden Eagles stole the ball and Green was fouled going to the hole. He made one of two to make it a one-point game.
A short time later, Naples forced another turnover, and Moore hit a free throw to tie the score at 53-53 with 2:33 remaining.
Then, as they did all game, Jesuit responded by hitting a 3 — a deep one by Ryan Weir — with 1:02 left.
Green hit a 3 on the ensuing possession to tie it at 56-56, but Jesuit answered with another 3 — this one by Joe Pesansky (who finished with 16 points) — from the right corner to take a 59-56 lead with 28 seconds left.
Naples patiently worked the ball, but Jesuit’s defense kept the Eagles from getting a good look beyond the arc. With 4.7 seconds remaining, Hull called a timeout to set up a final play.
“It was going to Tony,” Hull said. “We tried to run our other shooter off and have Tony come in and get the shot.”
Green was unable to get a good look on the final shot, and Jesuit celebrated wildly as the final horn sounded.
Hull was despondent after the game, but at the same time appreciative of all his squad accomplished over the past two seasons.
“Man, it’s tough,” said Hull, who guided Naples to a 49-12 record over the last two seasons. “I have a great group of seniors. I love ’em to death. They’ll run through a brick wall for me. It’s a tough time, man. We won a lot of games, did a lot of good things. Everyone is hanging their heads now. It’s hard. We’ve gotta move on.”
Hull admitted that his team missed star senior point guard Byntley Theork, who was suspended throughout regionals.
“I wish he was here,” Hull mused. “He was a big part of our team. He’s got a bright future himself. He was averaging 16 points and eight assists for us. So it’s a key piece. But the boys did a great job of stepping up and learning how to play without him. I thought they did a good of job of battling adversity.”
Jesuit will face Pembroke Pines Charter (11-3) — the team that ended Naples’ season last year one game shy of the state title game — in Wednesday’s state semifinal. Pembroke Pines, which finished runner-up last year to Rickards, trounced Miami Norland, 79-53, on Friday night.