Playoff basketball can be wild, and Windermere Prep experienced that firsthand in their 76-67 win over rival The First Academy in their opening game of the FHSAA Class 3A playoffs Thursday, Feb. 21.
After being ahead by 21 points at one point in the second quarter, the Lakers (26-3) felt the pressure late in the game as the Royals (15-12) kept chipping away until they found themselves down only 70-65 with less than a minute to go. The rally was made possible by Jayden Battle — who scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half — and Alex Shields 13 points in the second half. Shields would finish with a game high of 21 points, and Sean Johnson would add on 18 points himself.
That kind of run was expected, said Windermere Prep head coach Brian Hoff, who’s Lakers lost in overtime to TFA during the regular season.
“When you play good teams they usually make runs — TFA is a good team,” Hoff said. “I knew they were going to make a run and they did. It hurt not having Fanbo — who is an incredible player — but how about the other guys who stepped up? It was an incredible, full team effort.”
The Lakers would help themselves in crunch time by going 5-of-6 from the charity stripe to seal up the 76-67 quarterfinal win.
Despite the final, frantic quarter of play, however, things were seemingly all Windermere Prep early and often as the Lakers jumped out to a 20-9 lead at the end of the first quarter — and that was without star forward Fanbo Zeng.
The lanky sophomore left the court with 1:06 on the clock and immediately walked into the trainer’s room to get attention on what turned out to be a dislocated finger on his left hand, Hoff said. Zeng would return to action with 3:50 left in the first half with his left hand partially wrapped, but he would be played sparingly the rest of the game — finishing with five points.
Though Zeng was mostly sidelined for the night, junior Zavien Williams and sophomore Jayden Williams showed out for the Lakers, as Zavien Williams racked up a team high of 17 points, while Jayden Williams picked up 15. Throw in 13 points from sophomore Drew Kousaie and 12 points from sophomore Elijah Hulsewe and the Lakers had all the answers to build the lead and hold off the Royals.
The win for Windermere Prep now sets up a rematch at home against The Master’s Academy — who the Lakers beat 75-58 in the district final back on February 14th — in the regional semifinal Tuesday, Feb. 25.
“Master’s is a great team,” Hoff said. “I told the team that I expect this to be a great game — it’s going to be a heckuva game and a heckuva atmosphere here. There’s a chance that we will have to play without Fanbo — which is a huge factor — but at the same time we’re not going to let that deter us.”