SEBRING - Avon Park's boys basketball team continues to excel.
Fresh off of a win over bitter rival Sebring, the Red Devils knocked off Tenoroc Friday night at Blue Streaks Gym in the semifinals of the Taveniere Tournament by a score of 64-58.
The nondistrict win improved Class 4A Avon Park to 12-3 while Class 6A Tenoroc dropped to 6-8.
"Any time you're in a tournament like this, it's survive and advance," said Devils coach Marty O'Hora. "It's win or go home and it's good practice for the district tournament."
Avon Park jumped out to a 7-0 start, but sloppy play near the end of the first quarter let Tenoroc tie the game and the period ended in a 12-12 stalemate.
Getting the usual output from Alfred Brown and Gus Owens, who scored 13 and 14 points respectively, the Devils got a throwback performance from forward John Mason. He scored a game-high 21 points, snagging seven rebounds and swiping three steals to guide Avon Park into the championship game.
"John had been playing like that near the beginning of the year, probably through the first five games," O'Hora said. "Then he just hit this sophomore slump - he lost a little confidence."
"Tonight he was under control. When he was in the paint, he took his time, he pumped faked. His got the talent and the size to be good."
Spurred by its iron triangle of Mason, Brown, and Owens, Avon Park outscored Tenoroc 21-13 in the second quarter to take a 33-25 lead into the half.
The Devils found their touch from 3-point range in the third period, as Recarus Burley and Daemon Braswell swished back-to-back threes to push Avon Park's lead to 50-40.
But just as the Devils offense seemed primed to run away with the game, the Titans 3-point shooters came alive. Despite solid perimeter defense from Avon Park, Tenoroc's Sam Moree and Kavontis Moore continue to find the bottom of the net. A relaxed rebounding effort from the Devils added to their woes, and Tenoroc was able to pull within one, 59-58, with just over a minute remaining in the game.
That's when Mason took over.
The Titans simply had no answer for him, as he continued to pound the ball in the paint, scoring at will on easy layups and often getting fouled in the process.
Even when Tenoroc thought it had an answer - as the Titans surely did when they double-teamed Mason in the corner - he still outwitted the defense, putting Avon Park ahead on an acrobatic layup that would make Dr. J envious.
After two free throws from Mason put the Devils up 62-58, he added one last gut-punch, stealing Tenoroc's in-bounds pass. The Titans were forced to foul him again, where he swished two more freebies to put Avon Park up by six.
"We did everything we could to give that game away," O'Hora said. "Late in the fourth quarter, we're not locating our guys, we're turning the ball over, and we're not boxing out."
"But we hung in there. We never gave up the lead once we got it in the second half."
Closing out games is something O'Hora said he can help the team improve on as the season inches closer to the new year.
"Good teams close out games easier than that," he said. "So it's something we're still working on. We're not at our best yet, but we're getting there - and in January, that's when we want to be our best."
The Devils win over Tenoroc set up a rematch Saturday afternoon against Class 7A Liberty, a team that Avon Park beat by two points in the Bill Jarrett Tip-Off Classic.
Results were not available at press time, but be sure to read Monday's Highlands Today sports section for the complete story and photos.