By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
ENGLEWOOD — It was a fast-paced game between Lemon Bay High School and North Fort Myers in Tuesday night’s District 7A-10 quarterfinal.
But the Manta Rays could never catch the Red Knights late to advance on in the district tournament. They fell victim to turnovers, poor rebounding and late-game miscues.
Thanks to 21 points from Fa’Najae Gotay and another 18 from Josiah Alvarez, the No. 5 Red Knights held on to defeat the No. 4 Manta Rays 69-65 on the road to advance to Wednesday’s district semifinal at Charlotte. North Fort Myers made 12 threes on the night, and Gotay and Alvarez accounted for 11 of them.
Brandon King made the other shot from beyond the arc and finished with 13 points.
“We played them twice and we know where their shooters are and I just don’t think we did a very good job of closing out to them in the first half,” Lemon Bay coach Sean Huber said. “We gave them too easy of a look and then we got burned really bad on offensive rebounds in the first half.”
Hayden Wolff recorded another double-double for Lemon Bay with 15 points and 16 rebounds. Tyler Caron had a team-high 20 points and Keegan Wyman added 16 more, including three 3-pointers.
But Lemon Bay’s offense was handicapped when its second-leading scorer, Jake Comer, left the game with a sprained ankle after hitting a 3-pointer near the end of the first quarter. He never returned, which made things even tougher for the Manta Rays considering starting point guard Cade Huber was playing with a 101-degree fever.
“We faced some adversity tonight,” coach Huber said.
The Red Knights (13-13) had 17 offensive rebounds in the game and forced the Manta Rays (14-11) into 23 turnovers, including six steals by Kimar Peacock. Fifteen of those turnovers came in the first half, which helped North Fort Myers take a 31-28 lead into halftime.
“I thought North Fort Myers’ kids in the first half just played with more desperation,” Huber said. “They got every lose ball, they really pounded the glass hard and you’ve got to give them credit for coming in here on the road and battling.”
The Manta Rays trailed by as many as six in the fourth quarter but fought their way back to within two points twice. The second time came when Luke Morrill made two free throws to pull Lemon Bay to within 67-65 with 13.7 seconds remaining.
Ericc Harris then missed a pair of free throws and Morrill came down with the rebound. He tried to push the ball up the court but turned it over when he got double-teamed with 5.7 seconds remaining.
“We had a fast-break play called and two guys went the right way and two guys went the wrong way,” Huber said. “Just the experience of not being in that situation and really understanding which way you’re supposed to go, I think he had a little panic there. It’s a young guy making a mistakes.”
Lemon Bay still had one more chance to tie it after Peacock went one-for-two from the foul line with 4.4 seconds remaining. Trailing 68-65, Wolff throw a long pass down the floor to Morrill, but the ball was deflected and resulted in another turnover.
“I think he saw one of our shooters go deep. I use a football term, ‘the corner was beat but he didn’t see the free safety.’ They played kind of a loose guy at midcourt and he sort of went over the top and got a piece of it,” Huber said.
“I still think we had a chance to catch it, but they were doing a great job of pressuring the inbounds pass, so there’s no guarantee that even then we can even get the ball across half-court in four seconds so he tried to make a play. It doesn’t boil down to that play but I’ll still take my chances with No. 11.”
NORTH FORT MYERS 69, LEMON BAY 65
North Fort Myers 13 18 14 24 — 69
Lemon Bay 16 12 16 21 — 65
North Fort Myers (69): Fa’ Najae Gotay 21, Josiah Alavarez 18, Brandon King 13, Peacock 7, Riggins 4, Harris 3, Wilkins 3. Totals: 20(12) 17-29.
Lemon Bay (65): Tyler Caron 20, Keegan Wyman 16, Hayden Wolff 15, Comer 5, Reid 4, Huber 3, Morrill 2. Totals: 23(5) 14-18.