By Bruce Robins, Sun Correspondent
SARASOTA – Despite leading for most of the afternoon, North Port High School gave up a game-tying shot at the buzzer, and wound up losing to Booker in overtime, 75-63, in a consolation round game at the Suncoast Holiday Classic Thursday at Riverview
Down by three points with ten seconds left, the Tornadoes (6-4) called a time out and got the ball to Eunique Arnold, whose three-point shot swished through the net as the horn sounded, sending the contest into overtime. Booker dominated from that point on, outscoring the Bobcats (7-5) 15-3 in the extra period.
“Our guys got away from our defensive principles,” North Port coach Ryan Power said. “Our help defense was not there and Booker did a good job of taking advantage of it.”
The game started out well for the Bobcats. After giving up a three-point basket to Booker’s Jordan Clark, North Port took advantage of several turnovers to score the next ten points. Although the Tornadoes closed the gap to 13-12 at the end of the first quarter, two three-pointers by Bryan O’Boyle and one by Ben Via helped the Bobcats pull away again in the second quarter and open up a 36-24 lead at halftime.
But Booker switched to a zone press in the third quarter and began to cut into the North Port lead.
“We went into halftime with our heads held high,” Power said. “We told the guys, ‘The score is 0-0.’ They came out and put the pressure on us and our guys did not react as well as we’d hoped.”
A layup by Arnold pulled Booker within 43-41 at the end of the third quarter, and the Tornadoes took their first lead since the opening minutes on a three-point play by Johnnie Williams at 50-47.
The Bobcats answered, and a basket and free throw by Gene Oliver put North Port back in front, 54-52. The teams traded baskets until two foul shots by O’Boyle with 1:31 to play and two more by Oliver with 34 seconds remaining gave the Bobcats a 60-57 lead.
Seconds later, a turnover gave Oliver a chance for a game-clinching layup, but the shot was blocked and Booker had one more possession.
“On that last play, we were debating over fouling so they couldn’t hit the tying three,” Power said. “We went with our defense and forced a contested, wild three that just so happened to go in. I would do the same thing over again if I had the same chance.”
Jaylen Jones quickly put Booker ahead in the overtime, and the Tornadoes scored seven straight points to put the game out of reach. Arnold led all scorers for Booker with 17 points, while Via paced North Port with 16. O’Boyle and Oliver added 12 apiece for the Bobcats while Bryson Thieme was also in double figures with 10.
Despite an 0-2 start in the tournament, North Port was just seconds away from being 2-0. also losing on a last-second shot to Waggener on Wednesday.
“It hurts, but the good news is it’s only December,” Power said. “The wins in February are what really matter, so as long as we can take what we’re doing wrong to lose these leads and fix it moving down the season, we’re going to be all right.”
The Bobcats (7-5) will face Cardinal Mooney in the seventh-place game Friday afternoon. Booker (6-4) will take on St. Petersburg Lakewood for fifth place.