Emmitt Williams sent the home crowd into a frenzy with a one-handed jam in the closing seconds, putting an exclamation point on the night for the Lehigh boys basketball team.
The freshman forward scored 11 of his team-high 19 points in the fourth period as the Lightning rolled past visiting Port Charlotte 68-51 on Tuesday in the Region 6A-3 semifinal. The win puts Lehigh into the region championship for the second year in a row.
“I started out rough picking up two fouls in the first quarter, so I had to sit,” Williams said. “I love the way my team stepped up without me, so at halftime I knew I had to go as hard as I could go.”
The Lightning will face Tampa Jefferson, winner over New Port Richey Mitchell 79-65 in the other semifinal, on Saturday in the Region 6A-3 finals. Prior to the game, the Lightning were informed that they would be the local program featured in the 2015 version of The City of Palms Classic in Fort Myers.
Lehigh scored the last 11 points of the first period, turning a 12-9 deficit into 20-12 lead over the final 2:43 of the period. Forward Deljuan Thomas scored six points during that stretch, and added a pair of huge blocks.
Then Abed Abu-Khadier caught fire.
The senior guard hit all three of his 3-point attempts in the second period as part of a shooting duel with Pirates guard Sean Price. He added a pair of free throws after being fouled on a 3-pointer just before the buzzer to give the Lightning a 39-30 halftime lead.
“Abed has stepped up for us all year, that’s why he’s our captain,” Lehigh coach Dawn McNew said. “He’s our most experienced player, and his demeanor and the way he handles pressure improves everyone.”
Lehigh combined spectacular guard play from Abu-Khadier and Stef’an Strawder, who added 11 points of his own, with equally superb play on the glass.
Perhaps the most telling sequence of the game came early in the fourth period, when the Lightning picked up four offensive rebounds on one possession, before Abu-Khadier’s floater in the lane gave Lehigh a 53-42 lead. The Pirates would get no closer.
“We play as aggressive as we can,” Abu-Khadier said. “We like to get in there, and if the refs are going to let us play we use that to our advantage. This was a big win for us and this was a great crowd, without them we probably wouldn’t be here right now.”
The Lightning saw their season end in the region finals last year to Ruskin Lennard, 74-63, though many players have higher expectations this time around.
“We’re having so much fun, and we have great chemistry,” Strawder said. “We’ve got what it takes if we all show up and play.
Williams was even more emphatic.
“I think we can win states with the way we’re playing right now,” Williams said.