By Scott Lockwood, SunCoast Sports
VENICE — Charlotte’s Jayden Grant had one thing on his mind entering Tuesday night’s matchup with Venice High School: delivering career win No. 400 for longtime coach Tom Massolio.
“I told the team we have to get that for him so he could be a happy guy,” Grant said. “I had to finish it for him.”
Moments after Mikey Priest buried a 3-pointer from well beyond NBA range to knot things up at 57 with a little under 10 seconds left in regulation, Massolio told his team during the final timeout that they had plenty of time to get a good shot if they executed their final play.
Tarpon point guard Trevor Bokon found Grant under the basket with 1.5 seconds left, and Grant laid it in to finish off a dramatic 59-57 Charlotte victory at The Teepee at Venice.
Charlotte followed its recent trend of quick starts and built a 9-point lead over the Indians halfway through the second quarter. Venice lost leading scorer Matteo Whelton to an ankle injury midway through the second quarter, but the Indians clawed back to within two points on a layup by Kyle Marois with just over a minute left until the break.
“We came out, hit some big shots and we were able to get everybody involved,” Massolio said. “These guys are starting to play. They could be a dangerous out as we go down to the end of the year.”
Charlotte scored on its first four possessions of the second half. Jaivon Heiligh then reeled off seven quick points for Venice to make it a one-point game. The game stayed close until Dylan Gregoire’s 3-pointer gave Venice its first lead at 48-47 with 4:30 left.
Back-to-back threes by Charlotte’s Jake Haas sandwiched a put-back by Heiligh. When Priest hit his game-tying 3-pointer with 10 seconds left, the wheels began turning for the game-winning play.
Massolio said the play was set up to go to the opposite side on a screen, but Trevor Bokon hit Grant with a perfect pass directly under the basket.
“Just a great play,” Massolio said.
Grant heaped praise on Bokon for the final play.
“We were looking for the big shot, but I saw the defender slide up so I went back door and I was open,” Grant said. “Trevor gave me a good pass and I finished.”
Venice had one last shot at a buzzer-beater. Derek Burrows took the long in-bound pass and got the ball to Priest, who couldn’t get the final shot — which ultimately fell — out of his hands before the final buzzer.
“We made a nice run and we battled all night against a really good team,” Venice coach James Slaton said. “We caught a bad break with Matteo going down, but I thought our guys stepped up. I thought Mikey played real well and if we had another half-second, we win that game at the buzzer.”
Haas led the Tarpons with 19 points, followed by Ahmad Johnson with 10. Heiligh led Venice with 15 points, followed by Priest with 13.
Massolio reflected briefly on his milestone victory, but he is onto the upcoming stretch of games for Charlotte, which includes the District 7A-11 tournament next week.
“I’ll probably think about it a lot more once the season is over,” Massolio said. “It’s a great accomplishment for a great group of coaches, administrators and the school, but my focus right now is next week and make sure we win one game and move on so we can give this group of guys another week of basketball.”