Basketball Varsity boys 12-19_Mock0099
POWER THROUGH. As he heads to the hole, senior Jeremy Bouton dodges West Orange’s Quinton Forrest. photo/Mackenzie Mock

Sam Emsley, staff writer of Hilights, and Ben Clyatt, Hagerty’s BluePrint sports editor, discuss Saturday’s regional final basketball game.  Boone will host the match-up in the Wayne Rickman Gymnasium at 7 p.m.

Why is your team still alive?

EMSLEY: We are still alive because we find a way to win when it matters…along with a little bit of luck. Take our game against Dr. Phillips. We were down,22-33, with 2:55 in the third quarter, but we mounted a comeback to beat the number four team in the state, 47-39. That game could have gone either way, but we played hard when it mattered.

CLYATT: Luck. Lots of luck. It took a lot of luck to get to this point. Now, that’s not to negate the fact that we’ve played extremely well in the postseason; much better than the beginning of the year. Our stars have stepped up big time, namely juniors Denzel Mahoney and Alex Keel. Mahoney dropped 37 on Sandalwood, and Keel added 26. Just the other night against Lake Brantley, Mahoney had the quietest 22 points I’ve ever seen. So he’s definitely keeping us afloat right now. And we still have one more year of him.

Who is the star on the team?

SE: Our  biggest and brightest star is Jeremy Bouton. He had the unlucky position of having to fill the shoes of Bary “BJ” Taylor, the best basketball player in recent years, and he has done a great job. He is a leader in the locker room and on the court. He is a great offensive scorer that could go off at any moment. On defense he is often assigned to guard the best players and so far has done a great job. He also is the only senior player, this year, to sign a college basketball scholarship.

FOCUS. On the line, Husky Denzel Mahoney shoots a free throw. photo courtesy/Hagerty BluePrint
FOCUS. On the line, Husky Denzel Mahoney shoots a free throw. photo courtesy/Hagerty BluePrint

BC: Like I said above, it has to be Mahoney. I’ve never seen a high school player dominate games like he does, and I got the chance to watch Austin Rivers when he was in high school. And if Mahoney is the Michael Jordan to this team, then Keel has to have been the Scottie Pippen, especially during the playoffs. It’s rare to see a high-schooler score 26 in a game, and it’s even rarer to see one score 37, and the two scored 37 and 26 in the same game. I’m a huge stat geek, so I had to look this up: there has only been one game in the NBA this season that featured two teammates going for 37+ and 26+ points: Steph Curry (31) and Klay Thompson (41). Mahoney and Keel are something special.

Who are the important role players?

SE: There are a few players who play hugely important roles. Jose Melendez is our defensive leader. He is often the best defender on the court and regularly creates turnovers and blocks shots. He is a constant menace for our opponents.  We also have to thank Zachary “Jordan” Morales and Tyler Colson for being able to knock down 3-point shots seemingly at will.

BC: I would have to go with seniors Isaac Nze and Isiah Domino. They don’t score a lot, but they can both score if needed. They’re both insanely athletic and play with the urgency of a senior, where every game might be their last. I hate the cliché “play with their hearts,” but man, these guys play with their hearts. I don’t know how else to describe it. They’re selfless, and they seem to have fully embraced Kohn’s team-first mindset. Don’t be surprised to see them fighting for every rebound and attacking the rim any opportunity they get.

What has been the most thrilling moment this season?

SE: There have been so many close calls that lead to insane victories. Easily my favorite was our come-from-behind win against Dr. Phillips. We were down by 11 with only a 10: 55 left in the game. Dr. Phillips looked invincible and we couldn’t seem to get anything going. We then mounted a comeback to win by eight against a very competitive team that had beat us pretty badly earlier in the season, 49-71. The atmosphere in the gym that night was electric.

BC: Coach Josh Kohn named several, like the time Mahoney dropped 38 against Winter Park, or the game against rival Oviedo on the road that came down to the last possession, but the one I’m going with was the district championship victory over Lake Brantley. This was the first time we played them in the playoffs, and Lake Brantley went on a 7-0 run at the end of the game. We were holding on to a 51-50 lead with six seconds left, and Brantley had the ball. They had to go the length of the court with no timeouts, and when one of their players tried to advance the ball past half court, Mahoney tipped the ball and ran the clock out, and we won district title.

What is your team’s Achilles heel?

SE: Our Achilles heel is that we are a second half team. Even when the game matters we don’t seem to be able to find our stride until the second half of games. We also struggle with free throws when they matter the most. Free throws have cost us games, most notably the Edgewater game, 50-55. We had plenty of chances but we couldn’t capitalize on them. These errors will hurt us more and more as we advance to the state level.

BC: I feel like it’s our height. We don’t have any giants down low, and the majority of our players are guards or wings. Rebounding will be an issue if we’re collectively shorter than whomever we’re facing. Lake Brantley has a lot of big guys, and they gave us trouble before with their height and interior presence. We’ve had no problem playing David to their Goliath, but David only had to win once.

What would cause your team to lose Saturday night?

SE: Not playing the game from start to finish. We have had a few close calls that easily could have gone either way. We were fortunate and luck smiled on us, but we need to be able to play the whole game and not leave our future up to luck. We also need to stay focused. We haven’t made it this far since 2002 and very few people expected us to make it this far, especially because it was the end of the BJ Taylor era. We need to remember the skill and focus that got us here and continue it.

BC: Well, besides height, it might come down to a simple lack of experience. We don’t have a single player on the team who has made it farther than the first round of the districts before this year. No one has been on the team for more than two years. However, we have an extremely experienced coach who won a state title two seasons ago. I have faith that Kohn knows what he’s doing and that he knows what he wants the players to be doing; I just am not sure that the players will be able to do what he asks. Especially with this game on the road, I’m afraid that the mental factor might be too much for our team to overcome. But hey, we’ve overcome a lot this postseason, and I wouldn’t be too surprised to see us overcome this too. The only way to get experience is to keep playing.

What would guarantee them the victory?

SE: To guarantee victory we need to start strong and stay strong the whole game. If we can overcome our tendency to not start playing until the half, we will be able to win this game, no problem. We also need to hit free throws. We sometimes get flustered on the line and we need every free throw to be a guaranteed point. The team also has to ignore how tired they are. We have been playing a lot of games and we just need to push through.  Basically, they need to play like they did in the last quarter of the regional semifinal game against DP.  If we play with that same intensity we will be state bound.  Our Rowdy Crowd needs to be present too, as their encouragement helps keep the boys motivated.

BC: Mahoney playing like he’s #D1bound. Keel playing like some kind of Scottie Pippen/Klay Thompson/Dwayne Wade super-sidekick. Nze and Domino and Robin Loh playing like seniors in the last game of their basketball careers. Kohn doing Kohn things. Really, as long as everyone plays the way they did in the regional quarterfinal against Sandalwood, we should be good. They’ve done it before, I have no doubt they can do it again.

NOTE:  Both schools have a large student section support group and the game is expected to sell out.  Get there early if you want to watch the game live and cheer on your team.

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By David Emsley

I'm Sam and I love everything to do with football. I'm a huge Auburn and UCF fan.

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