By James Oyola
MIAMI, Fla. – Pine Crest guard Brandon Knight is already regarded as one of the top players in the Class of 2010, but on Saturday night the 6-foot-3 junior turned in a performance that may help propel him to the top spot.
Knight, once again, brought his team back from an 11-point fourth quarter deficit by scoring 18 of his game-high 52 points in the game's final four minutes to lead the Panthers to a 78-71 win over La Salle in the Class 3A regional final.
"Once you win a championship, you want it more and more," Knight said. "After last year's win, we promised ourselves that we'd do whatever it takes to get back to Lakeland."
The Panthers got off to a great start and jumped to a 14-7 lead by the end of the first quarter.
Despite the quick run, La Salle managed to slow Pine Crest's momentum by winning the second and third quarters by a 15-point margin.
Senior guard Colin Campbell led the way for the Royal Lions. Campbell finished with 13 points and hit two clutch 3-pointers that helped La Salle maintain its lead with 2:25 left in the third.
Despite his efforts, it was no match for what Knight would cook up next.
The All-American guard displayed the ingredients needed to put his team in position for a chance to win and kept the sold out crowd at Ransom Everglades High School salivating at his every move.
Down 11 with 4:29 left in regulation, Knight singlehandedly led the Panthers on a 9-0 run. During that stretch, he hit two 3-pointers, recorded two steals and turned a trip to the foul line into a 3-point play.
Then, with his team trailing 69-68 with 1:22 remaining, he hit two foul shots that gave his team the lead. Knight finished the game netting 21-of-22 free throw attempts.
He also made key defensive plays in the game's final minute that aided the Panthers' momentum. The standout guard drew a charge and forced a jump ball that allowed his team the possession's they needed in order to win.
Knight's impressive play was among the best individual performances in south Florida high school basketball history.
The Panthers (25-4) advance to face Bishop Verot on Wednesday.
Other Playoff Results
Blanche Ely fell to Santaluces 68-57 in the regional final on Saturday. Earnest Roberts led the way for the Chiefs by scoring 23 points and propelled them to their first trip to Lakeland since 1986.
Coral Reef (25-5) defeated a scrappy Dr. Krop team 76-66 in the regional final on Saturday. The Barracudas got a game-high 26 points from junior forward Charles Hankerson and 23 points and 10 rebounds from senior guard Jerron Granberry. Coral Reef will face Santaluces in the state semifinals on Wednesday.
Dillard, the defending state champions, fell to Dwyer 66-53 in the regional final on Saturday. Dwyer (22-7) will face Clearwater in the state semifinals on Wednesday.
Monsignor Pace, the defending state champions, fell to Cocoa 66-65 in overtime in the regional final on Saturday night. Louisville-bound forward Rakeem Buckles had a team-high 18 points for the Spartans, but it was not enough as the loss ended their shot at a third cosecutive state title and a sixth consecutive trip to the state final four. Cocoa will play Bartow on Thursday.
Archbishop Curley fell to Summit Christian 55-47 in the regional final. Summit Christian will play Tampa Fairchild on Thursday.
Grandview Prep (27-0) defeated Westlake Prep 66-49 in the regional final on Saturday. Senior forward Altavious Carter led the way for the Pride by scoring a game-high 24 points. Grandview, who lost in the state championship game last season, will face the winner of the Lakeland-Victory Christian game on Wednesday.
Parkway (32-3) overcame a sluggish performance by its All-American forward Erica Wheeler en route to a 49-42 win over P.K. Yonge in the Class 3A state championship game on Friday. Freshman center Destiny Jones, who had a team-high 17 points, helped lead the Panthers to their second consecutive state title.
Miami Norland defeated Lake Mary 27-25 for the Class 6A state title on Saturday in the lowest-scoring state championship game in the event's 24-year history. The Vikings (32-0), state runners-up in 1994, 2006 and 2007, completed their first undefeated season in school history, in any team sport.