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Raiders click off six in a row: Districts begin: Tues., Feb. 6

Ray DiMonda,
correspondant
Posted 2/7/24

ORANGE PARK - After being down nine points at the half, the Orange Park Raider basketball team went on a third-quarter run of 21 points to close the gap on the visiting University Christian Fighting …

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Raiders click off six in a row: Districts begin: Tues., Feb. 6


Posted

ORANGE PARK - After being down nine points at the half, the Orange Park Raider basketball team went on a third-quarter run of 21 points to close the gap on the visiting University Christian Fighting Christians, lighting a fire inside the Raider’s players.

With a throw-in with 3.8 seconds to play, senior Johnnie Johnson put up a buzzer-beater lay-up off the glass to drain with 1.1 seconds to play. Using a face guard defense, Orange Park denied University Christian from even getting a shot off in the last tick of the clock, winning the near heart-stopping regular season-ending game 51-50.
“Jacob Henson was our key to clawing our way back into this game,” said Orange Park Head Coach Derek Kurnitsky, who got his sixth straight win before this week's district tournament opener against Fleming Island and third buzzer-beater win for the season. “He just took over. Tonight, he was the guy. The kids just bought into our defense and at halftime, they bought into our gameplan. We had a long talk with them about the game plan and the kids just believed in us; they just believed. That locker room after the game; it was like we just won a national championship. You can’t buy that feeling.”
With a Friday night regular season closer in the Raiderdome, the band adding to the atmosphere, not much could be added to bring the intensity level higher.
At the end of the first quarter, the Fighting Christians only held a single-point lead, 10-9. The Raider plan was to slow things down, not allowing the University Christian twin towers, Adalbert Allotey and Augustine Ayelyine both all of six foot nine inches of slam dunk machines, the opportunity to move freely inside the paint.
“We had a plan, and we were on them like flies. We were on them,” said Kurnitsky.
The second quarter got away from the Raiders when the Fighting Christians’ King Sanders got hot from outside with 3-pointers. With 1:30 to play, the Raider plan was to hold the ball mid-court and let the clock burn off. Kurnitsky said of the tactic, “If he would have sat in a 2-3 zone all third quarter, it would have been 25-16 going into the fourth quarter.”
The idea was to take the ball out of the Fighting Christians's hands and just frustrate them with no ability to score. With three seconds until half, the Raiders tried one last drive without success, going into the break down 25-16.
In the locker room, it was the adjustments made on defense and the hot shooting of Jacob Henson; game-high 19 total points, and Archieve Triggs iii; 12 points, the difference makers. With the Raiders shifting from zone to man-to-man whenever they need it, it simply frustrated the Fighting Christians on offense. When the Raiders had a fast break, they jammed the lane and were on fire. Other offensive set-ups just slowed things down to set up long developing plays which disrupted University Christian. At the end of three, Orange Park outplayed University Christian 21-10 in the third quarter alone, taking the lead 37-35.
The fourth quarter had all the momentum on the Raider bench, allowing Kurnitsky to go to work like a mad scientist. The basketball professor had players swapping in and out at every stop of the action, slowing the game one moment, then running around the gym like track sprinters. Like a horse race, the lead went back and forth until the end. With 3.8 seconds to play, off another Triggs iii layup, the Raiders were down 49-50. Knowing what was needed, off a time-out Kurnitsky left the line throw-in player alone, face-guarded every player, and prepared for a court-long throw. As the five seconds approached, University Christian Head Coach Jody Bailey called a time-out to prevent a turnover. Back in action, Kurnitsky ran the same defense, this time forcing the Fighting Christians to exceed the five seconds resulting in the turnover. With a timeout plan, the Raiders set up Johnson under the net. With the play execution and drain, the Raiders were up 51-50 with 1.1 left. “Coach told me to come off the screen and lay it up,” said a breathless Johnnie Johnson just after the buzzer. “I didn’t even think. It was just score, just score. Let’s win. It was like a dream.” University Christian attempted one last gasp after another timeout, getting the ball to mid-court, only to have their player, untouched, lose his balance and fall, never getting off a shot.
“It’s going to be exciting to play Fleming Island in the Raiderdome,” said Kurnitsky. “They are well coached, a really good program, and a really good team. It should be a really fun night in the Raiderdome. It should be a fun night for Clay County Basketball. I’m glad it’s in the Raiderdome and we don’t have to travel.”

District Schedules

District 3-6A: Tues., Feb. 6: No. 6 First Coast (15-8) at Nease (13-11); No. 7 Fletcher (11-14) at No. 2 Oakleaf (17-5); No. 5 Fleming Island (14-11) at No. 4 Orange Park (17-7), No. 8 Beachside (13-11) at No. 1 Ponte Vedra (17-7)
Semifinals: Thurs., Feb. 8
Final: Sat., Feb. 10

Note: Oakleaf is on a five-game win streak with a loss to 2A University Christian on January 15.

District 3-2A: Tues., Feb. 6: No. 1 Impact Christian Academy (13-10) BYE; No. 7 Florida School for the Deaf and Blind (3-18) at No. 2 University Christian (13-10); No. 6 Christ's Church Academy (6-18) at No. 3 St. Johns Country Day School (20-3); No. 5 First Coast Christian (9-13) at No. 4 St. Joseph Academy (11-14)
Semifinals: Thurs., Feb. 8 at Impact
Final: Sat., Feb. 10 at Impact

Note: St. Johns eighth grader Cameron Cooper achieved his 1,000 points recently for Spartans.

District 2-5A: Tues., Feb. 6: No. 1 Rickards (19-6) BYE; No. 5 Middleburg (17-7) at No. 4 Baker County (10-13); No. 2 Columbia (14-11) BYE; No. 6 Ridgeview (2-23) at No. 3 Clay (10-11)
Semifinals: Thurs., Feb. 8
Final: Sat., Feb. 10

District 5-4A, Tues., Feb. 6: No. 1 Palatka (21-4) BYE, No. 2 Santa Fe (10-13) BYE; No. 5 Suwannee (9-13) at No. 4 Eastside (6-16); No. 6 Keystone Heights (8-130 at No. 3 North Marion (10-12)
Semifinals: Thurs., Feb. 8
Final: Sat., Feb. 10