By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
SARASOTA — The opening game of the Suncoast Holiday Classic at Riverview High School was a wild one, featuring 11 lead changes in the fourth quarter alone between North Port and Waggener.
Unfortunately for the Bobcats, they found themselves on the wrong end of those exchanges with four seconds to go.
Kevion Hudson’s driving layup in the waning moments propelled the school from Louisville, Kentucky, to a 52-50 victory Wednesday afternoon. The Bobcats had one last chance to tie it and force overtime, but Gene Oliver’s runner at the buzzer was blocked by Jacquess Hobbs, who scored a game-high 18 points.
Hudson only finished with five points and made just one basket in the final quarter, driving through multiple Bobcats (8-4) to get to the rim for the game-winner. Fouling was an option, considering the Wildcats (6-5) were just 4 of 10 from the foul line in the game, but North Port coach Ryan Power decided to trust his defense.
“We were discussing between coaches whether we should foul to force a free throw or not, but defense has been our strength all season. I believed in us getting a stop but they got to the rim and made a play on us,” Power said.
Ben Via was the only Bobcat to score in double figures, posting 10 points, all of which came in the second half. Both teams struggled to score at the rim for most of the day until the Wildcats erupted for 17 points in the fourth, thanks to eight points from Hobbs and six more from Ron Fell, who finished with 13.
North Port took a 50-49 lead with 57 seconds to go on a basket by Oliver, who finished with eight points. But no less than six seconds later, the Bobcats fouled Fell, who went to the line and made one of two attempts to tie the game.
On North Port’s ensuing possession, the Bobcats struggled to move the ball out of the backcourt and ultimately threw it out of bounds with 36.9 seconds left. It was just one of a few turnovers by the Bobcats, who also lost the rebounding battle 33-30, leading to a lot of second chance points for the Wildcats.
“We knew the key going into this game was boxing out and not trying to out-jump anybody and that’s something we’re going to have to continue to work on as the season goes on,” Power said.
Bryan O’Boyle and Adam Cohen each added seven points for the Bobcats, who led by for a majority of the first half and by as many as eight. But Waggener closed the first half on an 8-2 run to cut North Port’s lead to 23-21 at the break, and neither team led by more than four points the rest of the day.
Waggener led 2-0, but didn’t see the lead again until Fell hit a 3-pointer with 2:51 to go in the third quarter. Via answered with a triple of his own on the ensuing possession and North Port ultimately took a 36-35 lead into the fourth.
Via pushed the lead to three with basket to begin the fourth but the Bobcats could never go on another run as the Wildcats saved their best offense for last.
“The one thing we didn’t do much of was transition offense and we need to work on our rebounding. Other than that, our defense was pretty good. We held them to about 12 points a quarter and our offense was a little stagnant but if we get some transition we’re going to be OK,” Power said.
North Port faces Cardinal Mooney in the loser’s bracket at 3 p.m. today before finishing up with the tournament on Friday.
WAGGENER 52, NORTH PORT 50
Waggener 8 13 14 17 — 52
North Port 9 14 13 14 — 50
Waggener (52): Jacquess Hobbs 18, Ron Fell 13, Kalakon 9, Hudson 5, Brewer 2, Montgomery 2, Simic 2, Keaton 1. Totals: 23(2) 4-10 52.
North Port (50): Ben Via 10, Oliver 8, Cohen 7, O’Boyle 7, Thieme 6, Graff 5, D. Babut 4, Z. Babut 3. Totals: 20(4) 6-9 50.