Defense wasn’t necessarily a high priority Saturday night in the inaugural Tree Rollins Senior High School Basketball Game played at South Florida State College. The players put on an offensive show and the Heartland Eagles came away with a 132-117 victory over a local team consisting of area high school and college players.
There were a number of familiar sights, such as Toby Solebello back in the blue and white of Sebring and Romello Roberts and Reggie Baker back in their familiar red and white Avon Park jerseys, as well as Marcus Dewberry back in the Sebring blue and white for the first time in three years.
“It felt great to play with my old teammates and have some fun,” said Dewberry, who will graduate from Lake Wales and has signed with Saint Leo University. “It felt like old times.”
Sebring seniors Decaris Jones and Ezell Gammage, along with Avon Park’s Jovan Pratt rounded out the roster of coach Princeton Harris’ team.
“It was something to do for these kids and have them come out and play these guys and have some fun,” Harris said. “It gave them one more chance to play and it turned out well. It was a real good group of guys.”
It was the young guys who jumped out on top in the first quarter, grabbing a 19-13 lead before the Eagles closed out the first quarter on a 20-5 run to lead 33-24 after the first quarter.
Three-pointers by Dewberry and Roberts cut the gap to three, only to see the Eagles push the lead back to double-digits, before baskets by Jones, Solebello and a Roberts dunk made it a two-point game and the Eagles led 57-53 at the half.
The young guys were noticeably winded toward the end of the half and Harris said the longer court definitely played its part.
“The biggest thing they were talking about is the extra 10 feet on the court, and that does make a difference,” he said. “It doesn’t seem like it’s a lot, but when you’re running it 30 or 40 times in a quarter it’s a lot more footage.”
Dewberry said it definitely made a difference.
“After the first half was over I thought the game was over, I was so tired,” he said.
“I was like, ‘Oh, man, we got another half of this.’ Then they started raining threes.”
The Eagles came out with a bit more intensity in the third quarter and 3-pointers by David Lawson and Orlando Jones turned a six-point game into a 77-65 advantage. The Eagles built a 15-point lead when Gammage hit his third 3-pointer of the game to trim the lead back to 12.
“I don’t know where that came from,” quipped Harris of Gammage’s long-range prowess. “I sure didn’t see that during the season.”
Lawson hit several more 3-pointers to keep the youngsters at bay and the Eagles led 95-84 after three quarters.
The fourth quarter resembled an NBA all-star game, as defense was avoided at all costs, which allowed some monster dunks and plenty of long-range bombs.
“I just had a blast,” Dewberry said. “I hadn’t played since the season was over. It felt good to get back out there and have some fun.”
Roberts led the team with 30 points, while Dewberry scored 20 and Solebello added 18. Baker scored 15, Decaris Jones added 12 and Pratt and Gammage each scored 11, as all seven players reached double digits.
Orlando Jones tallied 35 for the Eagles, with Lawson adding 33.
“They were better than I expected,” Dewberry said. “Once you get out on the floor with them — those guys can play. Their point guard (Lawson) is quick and he’s a shooter. They were good.”
The game came together a bit late and Harris was hopeful that they can get it planned a bit earlier next year, as he would love to do it again.
The Eagles have two home games remaining on the season. They will host the Palm Beach Piranhas on Sunday at 3 p.m. at South Florida State College and welcome Fort Lauderdale on Sunday, April 14, also at 3 p.m.