COCOA – Few teams build sizeable halftime leads playing the Cocoa High boys basketball team on its home floor.
Far fewer survive the comeback that inevitably follows.
“I knew it was coming,” Heritage coach Stephen Link said, “but I didn’t know it was coming like that.”
Link’s Panthers built a 26-point lead and held on for their Cape Coast Conference lives, eventually needing overtime but leaving with a 74-72 win in an important conference game.
Shaun Willett scored 37 points in regulation, 20 of them in the first-quarter explosion that put the Panthers in front, 30-13. Because 36 wasn’t enough, he scored four more in overtime and finished with 41. That was 10 more than his season average.
“We were very fortunate to come out strong, because I heard if you come out soft on this team, they’ll blow you away,” Willett said.
He and Eli Farrakhan combined for six 3-point baskets — four were Willett’s — in the first period. Farrakhan was the only other Heritage player in double figures, with 16 points. Willett finished the game with six 3s.
It was during his quiet time, when Willett went scoreless during the first half of the third period, that the Tigers began to fight back from a 45-19 halftime deficit. At 3:06 of the third, Jay Wilcox scored to cut the Heritage lead to 49-39. He missed a follow-up free throw, but Cocoa got the rebound and Wilcox added a 3.
“You’ve just got to get ready,” Link said. “They’re going to get some calls in their home gym, and this is a school of champions, so they’re going to fight like champions.”
Cocoa’s Bruce Judson gave his team a 65-64 lead with 23 seconds to play in regulation, but Farrakhan made one of two on the other end to force overtime. The Panthers then scored the first six points of overtime on the way to the win.
Heritage improved to 11-5 overall and stayed in the CCC race with just one conference loss. The Panthers host Melbourne on Tuesday. Cocoa, despite 21 points from Willie Davis and 16 from Wilcox, fell to 12-3 overall.
Local teams in state rankings
The Florida Association of Basketball Coaches and Source Hoops announced their second set of state basketball rankings this week, and Florida Air, at 12-4, was ranked fifth in Class 3A boys basketball.
Holy Trinity (10-2) was ranked ninth in Class 4A, and the Rockledge girls were ranked ninth in 5A at 15-3.