Miami Herald (Sunday)

True North boys’ hoops builds momentum for possible run to state finals with clutch victory

- BY ANDRE FERNANDEZ afernandez@miamiheral­ Andre C. Fernandez: @FernandezA­ndreC

Despite its rapid rise over the past five years, True North’s boys’ basketball team is still seen by many as the new kid on the block.

On Thursday night, the Titans made a case to be taken seriously as a state title contender.

Led by clutch plays at both ends of the floor by sophomore guard Jasen “J-Roc” Lopez, True North edged reigning Class 4A state champion Mater Lakes 62-61 in overtime on the latter’s home court.

The victory built momentum for a possible first run to the state finals for the Titans (20-5) in the upcoming Class 2A playoffs.

“This is just a big step for this program,” True North coach Fui Martinez said.

“We built this from the ground up with this core group of guys and this is a signature win to show the city and everyone that we’re for real. Our goal is to win a state championsh­ip and this brings us one step closer to that.”

Lopez, a highly-touted 2026 prospect in both football and basketball, led True North with 19 points, five rebounds and four assists.

But his biggest contributi­on came in the closing seconds of overtime to help seal the win.

After Mater Lakes’ eighthgrad­e guard Tai Bell stole the ball, he found teammate Clarence Burts ready to drive to the hoop. But as Burts went up, Lopez blocked his shot and the ball went out of bounds with 4.9 seconds remaining. After the ensuing inbound, Demsond McIntosh missed a go-ahead three-point shot and time expired, preserving the win for the Titans.

“The time got big so whatever I had to do, I had to do to help my team win,” Lopez said. “That block was huge and I put my body on the line to get my team the win. We’ve been through a lot. Last year, we lived and we learned and got bigger, faster and stronger.”

Martinez said after the game he wasn’t sure his team, which made its first regional playoff appearance in school history last season, could have won such a game a year ago.

This time it did, thanks to contributi­ons from several players.

In addition to Lopez, sophomore guard Boosie Swan set the tempo with 18 points, four assists and three rebounds.

True North, which trailed by eight in the first quarter, put together a 12-0 run that carried into the third period before the two teams went back and forth with five lead changes down the stretch in regulation.

Titans center Jayden Simmons’ layup tied the game at 54 with just under a minute left. Mater Lakes held the ball for a final shot, but missed two in the closing seconds.

In overtime, a three-pointer by Burts gave Mater Lakes (16-8) a 61-60 lead with 1:53 left. But Simmons, who finished with six points, eight rebounds and three blocks, converted another layup off a feed from Lopez to put True North ahead for good.

Mater Lakes forward and Southern Mississipp­i signee Christian Reid, who was held to nine points, missed a pair of free throws with 15 seconds left. He then forced a turnover, but was called for a charge with 10.5 seconds remaining and fouled out. The offensive foul was one of three drawn in the game by True North senior forward Alex Soto, who also had 10 points and 10 rebounds.

“We could have folded many times but we stuck together,” Martinez said. “We all know [Lopez] has the talent and athleticis­m, but the way he’s been so mature and shown he can lead his team, knowing when to shoot, when to bring it out, when to kill some clock. His decision-making has been unbelievab­le and he showed that today and carried us to the win.”

Starting next week, True North’s experience will again be put to the test as it hopes to make its first run to the state final four in Lakeland.

The Titans are the top seed in District 16-2A and likely will be the No. 2 seed in Region 4-2A behind defending state champion Weston Sagemont. True North lost by 19 points in last year’s regional semifinal to Sagemont. The Titans are entering the postseason having won 14 of their past 15 games and believe their experience in clutch games will change their fate this season.

“It’s a combinatio­n of experience and going over situations in practice and film room and having kids that are tough,” Martinez said. “This game, we don’t win it a year ago. We had talent a year ago, but we’ve really committed to the grind. We’re learning how to win games against big-time teams.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States