Boys Basketball: St. Andrew's to play for Class 4A state title
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
by Jeff Greer
The way George Andino and his teammates talk about St. Andrew's coach John O'Connell, it's hard to imagine a more important and meaningful moment than Thursday's Class 4A state championship game.
St. Andrew's fought and scrapped its way to a 55-49 state semifinal win Tuesday night over Havana-East Gadsden, and now has an opportunity to avenge O'Connell's title-game losses in 1995 and 2006.
St. Andrew's (24-3) plays state powerhouse and last year's state runner-up Lake Highland Prep, a team built around junior guard Joel Berry, who's already committed to play for North Carolina.
"It means the world to me," Andino said of the championship matchup. "Every day I go into the gym (at St. Andrew's), I look at all the banners in there - lacrosse, tennis, swimming, water polo - there's not one basketball one. That motivates me to come out here and do it, not even for us, but for (O'Connell) as well. He's been here longer than we've been alive."
O'Connell, who's coached at St. Andrew's for 28 years, has come a long way from the 4-16 season in 1986 that started his coaching career. The Scots lost the 1995 title game by two points and lost the 2006 championship by four.
They have to play a lot better Thursday afternoon if they want better results this time, and O'Connell knows that. While St. Andrew's played spectacular defense, forcing 29 East Gadsden turnovers and holding the Jaguars to five points in the pivotal third quarter, the Scots struggled on offense.
They made just 15-of-44 shots, including a bone-dry 2-of-11 from 3-point range. They were 23-for-38 from the free-throw line. They were also outrebounded 45-28.
But they won.
"We didn't have a very good shooting night," O'Connell said. "We had to do something. We went to a halfcourt trap they didn't handle."
Marko Radojicic, who spent most of the season as a reserve behind star senior forward Asil Kalkavan, stepped in yet again for the hobbled Kalkavan, scoring 17 points and grabbing five rebounds. Paired with Jovan Lawson's 15 points and seven rebounds, Radojicic's night alleviated St. Andrew's offensive woes.
Andino, who averages 15 points per game and was the hero in the regional finals, struggled mightily. He was 1-of-11 from the field, missing all five of his 3-pointers, but he still got seven points and five assists.
He'll presumably guard Berry on Thursday, which will be a serious challenge, but if it means getting O'Connell that elusive title win, Andino will take on any comers.
"It's been heartbreaking for him," Andino said of O'Connell's past losses in the finals. "He deserves it. This is our way of paying him back."