Sunday, November 13, 2016

TCA Holds On In Thriller

Heavy anticipation, hype, and hearsay regarding the vaunted matchup between The Conrad Academy's LuGuentz Dort and Oldsmar Christian's Elijah Weaver enveloped Saturday's featured matchup. Both players are top Class of 2018 guards.

Each is an unbridled catalyst and go-to option for their respective teams, capable of wearing multiple jerseys and leading by action during pressure-spiked moments.

Dort has offers from Louisville to Florida to Baylor. Weaver is sifting through offers, front-lined by Louisville and reigning NCAA champions Villanova. Jay Wright recently stopped at Oldsmar to take in a practice.

Yet in the most star-spangled game of season-opening SIAA Veteran's Day shootout, both Dort and Weaver ceded the spotlight to role players.

Key amongst those role players was TCA junior Malcolm Farrington, who drained 5-of-7 from beyond the arc en route to the first-year program's dizzying 70-62 victory at The Rock School Saturday night.

Conrad (1-0) nearly frittered away a 16-point lead in the second half, when Oldsmar pieced together an energized rally. Alex O'Guinn got free for a layin that sliced the lead to 47-37 with 9:59 remaining in the second half.

 Moments later, Akiel Shakoor drove into the teeth of Conrad's defense and finished a traditional 3-point play, whittling the lead to 47-40.

With the pressure mounting, TCA coach Shaun Wiseman called a timeout and ran a set play.

Farrington emerged from the corner, came off a screen and drilled a deep corner trey. In that quick-hit fashion, Conrad gained a 50-40 lead. The shot wasn't a stake through Oldsmar's collective heart, albeit it was as loud as much as it was necessary.

"Coach always instills confidence in me and always tells me to be ready at all times so it just sticks in my head," said Farrington, a West Palm Beach native who played an integral role for the Virgin Islands national team this summer.

"An open shot is a good shot for any shooter. I was feeling it so I had no hesitation at all. As soon as the ball touched my hands I just looked at the rim. I had enough space so I just pulled it."

Conrad sustained its poise as David Sloan bagged a pull-up jumper and then a corner 3-pointer for a 55-40 lead. As they did all evening, Oldsmar sliced into the deficit with an 8-0 run. A Weaver 3-pointer, followed by a D.J. Mitchell stickback culminated the run.

The teams continued to trade jabs. Mitchell attacked the rim for another 3-point play. Conrad answered as Mel Esso buried a long 3-pointer.

"We were down 17 at one point and the kids were able to cut it to five, it shows a lot of heart from the group that they never gave up," Oldsmar head coach John Bianchi said.

"Our group battled and fought hard. A lot of respect to Conrad as they're a very special group as well. We're certainly looking forward to playing them again."

Bianchi is pleased with the position to position depth he has, though a finer tuned defense seems to be a major point of emphasis.

"We need to tighten up defensively. It's only November, so we knew we were going to struggle a bit. That's where film comes into play. Oldsmar is usually known for defense. We don't want to be the group to get away from that reputation."

Dort led all scorers with 21 points, including a pulsating double fisted dunk off a 20 foot lob pass from Sloan with four minutes remaining.

Farrington and Auburn-commit Austin Wiley added 15 and 10, respectively. Dort, who shot 13-for-23 from downtown in vegas this summer, showcased the improved stroke and range.

Yet in a game underscored by star power, it was the most unheralded recruit who authored the biggest performance.

"(Farrington) has been taking pro level shots from well beyond the college and NBA 3-point line and many difficult looks," said Brad Traina, TCA's director of player development.

"Pin down screen shots from 25 to 30 feet away, step backs from the same distance, as well as a mixture of NBA fade away shots and mid range jumpers. As he continues to grow in height, skill level, and vertical explosiveness, he will go from a mid-major Division-I level player to a potentially high-major D-1 player."

Saturday was a step in the right direction.