FORT WALTON BEACH – John Egbunu’s final rebound was his biggest.
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On a night when the South Florida signee scored 14 points and grabbed a season-high 15 rebounds, the 6-foot-11 center found himself protecting the basket for Fort Walton Beach High in the game’s final seconds as the Vikings protected a 46-44 lead against Lovejoy, Ga., in the semifinals of the Indian Shootout at Choctawhatchee High School.
Trailing by two, Lovejoy guard De’Angelo Anthony found a crease and darted through the lane to attempt a game-tying layup. When Anthony’s attempt fell short, Egbunu corralled the rebound, effectively sealing the 46-44 win and giving the Vikings a spot in tonight’s championship game.
“We had a foul to give and we wanted to foul there,” said FWB head coach John Lavin, who watched his team improve to 9-2 on the season. “(Tyrone Culbreth) got caught guarding the man one-on-one, and Ty had four fouls. So they were able to get a good shot, but we were fortunate that they didn’t make that play.”
The last-second defensive stop helped the Vikings seal the deal on a night where they led from the outset. The Vikings opened the game quickly, as Culbreth found Egbunu for a dunk just five seconds into the contest to trigger a 9-2 run to start the game. After one quarter, FWB led 19-12 before taking a 31-23 lead into the half.
Culbreth and Egbunu, who at 6-foot-5 and 6-11 gave the Vikings a distinct size advantage inside, both pulled down double-doubles. In addition to Egbunu’s 14 points and 15 boards, Culbreth added 11 points and 11 rebounds.
After leading by eight at the half, Fort Walton Beach saw Lovejoy chip away at the lead for most of the second half, finally tying the game at 41-41 with 4:45 to play. Culbreth scored back-to-back baskets to start a 5-0 run that saw FWB pull away for good.
“Lovejoy is a school with a great football program,” said Lavin. “So I told our guys to be prepared for that kind of toughness. I knew they’d have that football-type mentality where they’d just keep coming in waves. And they did.”
Senior Blake James added eight points for the Vikings, who will now face either Carrollton or Houston County, both Georgia teams, in tonight’s finale. Tipoff is set for 8:30 p.m.
“This is a good tournament and it would be great to win this,” said Lavin. “Hopefully, we will have a big crowd come out to give us homecourt advantage.”
Choctaw falls to 0-2
Despite 28 points from guard Justin Ware, Choctaw fell to 0-2 in the Indian Shootout with a 57-56 loss to Robertsdale (Ala.).
Dylan Williams added 14 points and Thomas Clay 10 for the Indians, who will now face South Anchorage, Alaska in the consola-tion bracket third-place game today at 10 a.m.