Hot-shooting Orange Park upends Palatka in SJRAC semis

PALM COAST – For only the 15th time in his 82 games as the Palatka High School boys basketball head coach, Bryant Oxendine was on the losing end Thursday night.

It took a hot-shooting team to take down his Panthers. Fourth-seeded Orange Park did the honors, shooting 28 of 49 from the field for 57.1 percent in taking down the defending champion Panthers, 68-55, at Palm Coast Matanzas in the St. Johns River Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals.

“They shot the ball better than anyone we’ve come against in I don’t know when,” Oxendine said. “I don’t think anything would have worked tonight against those guys. Tonight was their night. I told the guys, ‘That’s going to happen sometimes. You’re going to have those nights.’ 

“Now how are they going to respond to that? This has got to be an inward thing. They have to have the passion, the heart and the desire as a team to want this.”

Oxendine will find out what his team has when the Panthers travel to Nease High School for a 2 p.m. game Saturday in the third-place game against Bartram Trail. A year ago, the Panthers (18-3) were beating Bartram Trail’s Bears for the SJRAC title.

The main culprit that did the Panthers in was standout guard-forward Jon Abate. He had a night no Panthers player, coach or fan will forget anytime soon – 32 points on 12-of-18 shooting along with six rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot.

And while it felt like anything the Raiders (16-8) put up couldn’t miss, the Panthers had issues with the basket, shooting just 20 of 56 (35.7 percent) from the floor. The Panthers were out-rebounded, 30-21, but it came on a night Palatka turned the ball over just eight times against the deliberate Raiders, who weren’t afraid to run time off the clock in their half-court offense.

“We shot the ball horribly,” Oxendine said. “The shooting and the rebounding ... that’s what cost us.”

Palatka found itself playing catch up after the Raiders went on an 8-0 run to take a 22-18 lead in the second quarter. Abate scored 18 of the team’s first 24 points. Down 26-20 with 3:13 to go before the half, the Panthers got back-to-back baskets from Mitchell McKinnon, who finished as the Panthers’ leader in points with 21 and rebounds with nine, to cut the OP lead to 26-24. But a 3-point field goal by guard Dialo Bryant (nine points, four rebounds) gave the Raiders a 29-24 lead at halftime.

The Raiders used that momentum for a 14-7 run to start the third quarter as Kadim Elmore, the team’s other starting guard, finally got going with 10 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Abate had seven points and the Raiders took a 48-38 going into the fourth quarter.

With 3:23 to go in the game, the Raiders built took biggest lead at 64-48 on a jumper by Kenny Banks (eight points, four rebounds, two steals). Before that, Palatka had cut Orange Park’s lead to 53-45 with 5:59 to go on a McKinnon layup. But at the other end, Bryant hit a layup, then an errant pass found its way into the hands of Abate, who, uncovered, set up, then drilled a 3-point field goal to make it 58-45, forcing Oxendine to use a timeout.

The Panthers never got the deficit under double digits the rest of the night.

Elmore finished with 13 points.

Y’dontae Smith, who had early foul trouble, finished with 11 points and two steals, while Malik Beauford ended up with 11 points and five rebounds, and Wesley Roberts finished with 11 points as well.  The Panthers played again without guard Deshawn Shaw, out with a foot injury he suffered earlier in the week. 

Palatka Daily News

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