Prep boys basketball: Panthers hold off Tornadoes’ threat

Senior Night at Palatka High School got a little too close for comfort for the Palatka High School boys basketball team Tuesday night.

With starters Chamar Dumas and Brandon Hampton out in the fourth quarter with ankle injuries, the Panthers watched a 17-point lead with four minutes to go dwindle to a single point against a tough Bradford High team. The Panthers, though, held on to defeat the Tornadoes, 70-67, at the Panther Palace to improve to 23-1.

Ydontae Smith hit two free throws near the end of the game with the Tornadoes down by one point to put the finishing touches on the latest win for the Panthers, who have been tested in their last three games – a 56-51 double-overtime win over Palm Coast Matanzas in the St. Johns River Athletic Conference tournament semifinals, a 55-45 championship win over Bartram Trail, then Tuesday night’s matchup with the Tornadoes (16-8).

Still, Panthers coach Bryant Oxendine likes the closer games for his team.

“We don’t need blowouts at this part of the season,” said Oxendine, whose Panthers will travel to Jacksonville tonight for the regular-season finale at Bishop Snyder (14-8). “Everyone fights us for two reasons – we were a Final Four team last year (in Class 6A) and we’re 23-1. We’ve got to be ready to fight and when our opponents fight, we have to fight harder. It’s like we have a bull’s eye on our backs every time we play. We get everyone’s ‘A’ game.”

Bradford was no different as team co-captain Chris Cummings delivered a game-high 27 points.

It was a pair of big men who led the Panthers to their latest win. Forward Welsey Roberts scored 21 points, including 11 in a 25-13 run in the second quarter to give the Panthers a 37-30 halftime lead. Roberts added seven rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot. Mitch McKinnon kept the Panthers close in the first quarter with eight of the team’s 12 points. He finished with 21 points, 12 rebounds and two steals. Coming off the bench, Malik Beauford added 12 points, six rebounds and a steal.

Oxendine said he will make a game-time decision on both Dumas, who hurt his ankle in the SJRAC final against Bartram Trail at Orange Park High, and Hampton for tonight. The Panthers open up play in the District 5-6A tournament Wednesday night at Palm Coast Matanzas as top seed against either fifth-seeded Menendez or fourth-seeded Matanzas.

Palatka Daily News

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