A last second floater by Riley Kugel pushed the Eagles to a 59-58 victory.
Down 58-57 to Ocoee with mere seconds to play, everything came down to the last possession for CFCA.
After being down for the entirety of the second half, the Eagles had — basket by basket — whittled away at the Knights’ lead and put themselves in a position win.
With eight seconds left, first-year head coach Andrew Gustafson called an isolation play for sophomore point guard Riley Kugel. The hope was to stretch the defense and give his playmaker a chance at the basket — it paid off.
Kugel got the ball from Jajuan Preaster with four seconds left on the clock, and drove into the lane before tossing up a floater — which hung in the air for what felt like an eternity — that bounced off the backboard and through the net as time expired. For Kugel, it was the ultimate present to cap off his birthday.
“They went into a zone, so we had to adjust to it… we didn't really run a play, we just swung it back around until I saw an open space,” said Kugel, who finished the game with 21 points and four assists. “Once I saw an open space I drove in, saw the gap and hit the floater.
“I usually practice floaters in my spare time… just to get my touches right,” he said.
The scoreboard lit up 59-58 with no time left, as Kugel was mobbed by his teammates — celebrating a win in the final game of the 10th annual Metro vs. Florida Challenge held at Apopka High School Saturday, Nov. 30.
The three-day Challenge pits 23 teams from the Metro Conference against 23 non-Metro teams in a showcase of some of the best talent in the area.
For CFCA — who are coming off of winning the 2A state title last year — the victory was the second of the season (2-0), and it helped give the non-Metro members the 14-9 advantage. It was the first time that the Metro has ever lost the Challenge.
Given that the Eagles lost the core of their lineup to graduation, getting an early win over a talented 7A team in Ocoee (0-1) was huge, Gustafson said.
“We have a really young team and I told them, ‘We run our stuff, they run their stuff’ — basketball is a game of runs,” Gustafson said. “We came out the way we wanted to come out, and with our kids being so young we want to make sure that we immediately get traction in a game. What a great win — (Ocoee) are so talented, well coached and those kids have been together a long time, so it was a great win.”
Out of the gate CFCA dominated on the court, as they jumped out to an early 12-2 lead thanks in part to hot shooting, while sloppy play by Ocoee led to bad shots and turnovers for the Knights. By the end of the first quarter, however, the Knights would find their footing and cut into the Eagles’ lead.
In the second quarter Ocoee’s Kordell Brown took over to help the Knights take their first lead of the night with just under three minutes left in the half. Brown would go on to finish with a game-high 23 points and five rebounds.
For the rest of the game Ocoee led by as many as nine points, but the lead quickly diminished thanks to a hot shooting Nick Rodriguez, who sank back-to-back threes with 4:05 left in the third to cut the Knights’ lead to 40-35.
The back-and-forth continued deep into the fourth quarter, before Kugel hit a huge three with 27.5 seconds left in the game to get to within one point at 58-57. A timely steal seven seconds later by CFCA’s Nicholas Silva — his lone steal of the night — would give the Eagles the ball, which ultimately led to Kugel hitting the game winner as time expired.
This was the fourth year that CFCA has participated in the Challenge, and for the Eagles it’s been a good place to showcase what lies ahead for the season.
“It just shows everybody that we are the team to beat, we are actually good,” Kugel said. “I know coming into the game not a lot of people thought we were going to win, because they were oversizing us and they had length over us. We just came out and fought hard — it means a lot to us.”
To see the full schedule and results of the 10th annual Metro vs. Florida Challenge, CLICK HERE