The Columbus Explorers delivered a stunning win Saturday night that earned them a chance at their first basketball state title in school history.
Down nine at the half, Columbus used an insurmountable offensive spurt to edge past Coral Gables 67-52. It was their only victory against the Cavaliers after falling to them in their first three meetings, once in the regular season, again in GMAC finals and a third time in the 7A District 15 championship.
But this time around, with it meaning so much more, the Explorers found a way to advance.
“We really had to follow and execute our game plan, listen to our coaches and just go out and ball and do what we do,” senior Jordan Jackson told 305 Sports. “We always knew we could beat them but we would always come out flat and never get ahead. But as you saw in the game Saturday, when we took that lead we never game it up.”
The pair of senior RJ Luis and sophomore Garyn Bess was essential in leading Columbus out of a 16-7 deficit at the end of the first quarter. Bess showed offensive versatility, scoring from behind the arc and taking it to the rack. Luis was splitting defenders left and right, hitting jumpers throughout the second half. Along with the duo, 6-foot-6 freshman Malik Abdullahi was a force defensively and provided good scoring down low, while Jackson facilitated on all aspects, even throwing two alley-oops.
Ultimately, a seemingly disconnected Cavaliers unit gave the Explorers a runaway ticket to the 7A Regional Finals, capping it off with a powerful dunk by Luis, who finished the game with 32 points, 15 rebounds and five assists.
On Gables’ side of the ball, senior guard Desmond Romer led the team in scoring. Romer was effective in traffic, even making some contested three-pointers and converting on drives to the basket. A sizeable portion of his points came from the charity stripe, thanks to his aggressive playstyle.
Senior forward Romulo Delgado provided a spark with good rebounding and some scoring through putbacks. Junior Kuran Bryant, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, injured his ankle the night before in a game against Palmetto and appeared to hobble throughout most of the game.
That said, the performances of Romer and Delgado were not enough to overcome the strain of back-to-back playoff games. The Cavaliers conclude their season with a 15-5 record.
As for Columbus, their contest against the Western Wildcats Monday at 7 p.m. holds true significance. For both programs, there’s a chance to play in Lakeland, FL, where they’ll compete to bring a state title back to their respective schools.