Lakeview guard Tay Hardy scored 15 first-half points before he lay at midcourt following an unintentional blow to his head, walking slowly off the Burton Coliseum court after several minutes.
The “minor injury” didn’t faze him much, and the junior scored 13 second-half points for a game-high 28 as the No. 2 Gators pulled away for an 81-58 win against No. 14 St. James.
“It wasn’t that major, and made sure I got it checked on,” said Hardy, who added six rebounds and four assists. “When I came back out, coach was like, ‘C’mon.’ So I kept going hard.”
Hardy was effective from the field (8-of-15) and from the free-throw line (10-of-12) as the Gators shot 49 percent from the field.
After an initial Lakeview (28-4) burst, St. James (20-13) stayed within striking range for much of the game, trailing 53-42 late in the third quarter.
But the Gators went on a 22-4 run that lasted late into the fourth quarter, including a mini 7-0 run that put the game out of reach.
St. James coach James E. Smith channeled his inner Dennis Green, former NFL coach, when describing Lakeview.
“They were who we thought they were — they are the No. 2 team in the state,” Smith said. “We were our own worst enemy at times, and we missed easy layups, free throws and committed turnovers.
“We didn’t do some things we could control, but then Lakeview deserves a lot of credit, too. They kept coming at us with 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-6 players … and we just ran out of rocks if we want to go David and Goliath.”
Lakeview’s win sets up a matchup with No. 1 Riverside on Saturday at 6 p.m.
The Gators are making their second-ever championship appearance, winning the 2003 state title with a 41-0 squad. Lakeview’s other state tournament trip came in 2004, and the school made one previous trip as Campti.
Lakeview set the tone early by taking a 16-3 lead using pressure defense and creating easy baskets.
“We tried to play uptempo early, but credit to them that they broke our press after our run and made us pull back,” Hancock said. “We started the way I like, but we slowed down and they attacked us.
“We switched to a 2-3 zone, and that kept us out of foul trouble and kept them off the free-throw line.”
Hancock channeled his Syracuse zone, placing his lengthy forwards at the top of the zone, which made St. James shoot contested shots yet slowed the Wildcats’ penetration.
Brent Toussaint, a 6-foot-4 center, had four steals at the top of the zone to pair with 10 points. Aaron Savell, Tray Kirkendoll and Charles Browder each scored nine points.
“I don’t like playing in the back a lot,” Toussaint said, which Hancock replied, “But you will.”
St. James’ Jason Favorite scored a team-high 16 points while brother Jonathon Favorite added 11 points. Jason shot just 5-of-21 from the field as the Wildcats made 32 percent as a team.