FORT WALTON BEACH - Struggling with its shot and plagued by turnovers, Fort Walton Beach looked out of its comfort zone in Thursday’s opening round Indian shootout matchup with Spain Park, Ala.
But amid all the setbacks, notably a 39-percent shooting clip and 17 turnovers, the Vikings rose above the challenge. Well more specifically, John Egbunu technically did all the rising.
The 6-foot-11 University of South Florida signee delivered two emphatic dunks in the second half, including one on an alley-oop from future Bulls teammate Drew Davis, as part of 19-point, seven rebound effort and the Vikings survived blowing two double-digit leads to hold on for a 48-40 win.
“Spain Park does a great job,” said FWB coach John Lavin, whose team will face Lovejoy, Ga. today in a semifinal matchup at 7 p.m. “They’re in every game they play because they believe in their system, they believe in their style of play. They’re tough to defend and they do a great job on defense. A win over a quality program like Spain Park is a good win for us.”
Tyrone Culbreth added 13 points and seven boards and Davis added 12 points for the 7-2 Vikings, who jumped out to an early lead.
Holding Spain Park (6-8) to 2 of 12 shooting, the Vikings led 12-5 after the first quarter. The lead ballooned to 11 after Blake James and Culbreth began the second quarter with back-to-back baskets, but Spain Park would have an answer.
Capitalizing on a cold shooting spell from FWB, Spain Park went on a 16-6 run – capped by three free throws from Dillon Tincher – to end the half down 22-21.
The game remained close until Egbunu came alive.
With Egbunu’s seven points in the frame leading the way, including an and-1 dunk that followed a heads-up defensive play by Trace Ryan, Egbunu gave the Vikings a 36-27 lead headed into the fourth.
“He’s definitely a big part of what we do,” Lavin said.
Scoring six straight points, Culbreth stretched the lead to 13 to start the fourth. But again, Spain Park would have an answer.
Executing a 13-4 run on the strength of five forced turnovers during a four-minute stretch, the FWB lead dwindled to 44-40 in the waning seconds. But down the stretch, Egbunu, Colbreth and Davis each knocked down a pair of free throws to put the game away.
Fort Walton Beach advances to the winner’s bracket, where it will face Lovejoy (Ga.) tonight at 7.