By Dave Brousseau
LAKELAND – The Pembroke Pines Charter boys’ basketball has been waiting what seems like forever to make it to the state tournament.
Now that they’ve made it, they might as well play for the championship.
Led by senior guard Dallas Graziani’s 29 points, the Jaguars defeated Naples 81-71 in a Class 5A state semifinal at the RP Funding Center on Thursday.
Combined with his 31 points in the regional final last Friday, Graziani has 60 points in his last two games.
Pine Charter (26-2) will play Tallahassee Rickards for the championship on Saturday at 3 p.m.
Though the Jaguars struggled on 3-pointers (1-of-16) and Osei Price was held to two points, they found other means to earn the victory.
Graziani made 15 of 15 free throw attempts, Javen Flowers-Smith scored 13 of his 15 points in the third quarter and Amarachi Ujagbor was 9 of 11 in the paint for 20 points.
“We shot well from the free throw line,” said Pines Charter coach Dave Roca. “This team will find a way to win games. They are resilient and there’s a game within the game.
Free throws impacted the result as Pine Charter went 26 of 29 from the line, while Naples was just 12 of 15.
“That was the difference,” said Roca. “We understand we need to make free throws to win the game and we’re always looking for that advantage.”
Once everything came together Pines Charter, who has averaged 80 points per game this season, went over 70 points for the 21st time.
After a scoreless first half Flowers-Smith scored 13 points, including the first 3-pointer for the Jaguars with 1:12 left in the third quarter.
The Jaguars ended the quarter with a 67-44 lead.
After an extremely slow start by both teams, each side began finding the range. Well almost.
Pine Charter, which has been one of the top 3-point shooting teams this season, went 0-for-8 in the first half and still led 37-30 at the half.
Graziani, who had 31 points in the Jaguars victory over Okeechobee in the regional final last Friday, had 14 points that included 8-for-8 from the line.
PEMBROKE PINES CHARTER 81, NAPLES 71
N (24-7): Lord 1-0-3, Green 6-3-16, Youmans 1-0-2, Hancock 2-0-5, Hernandez 4-0-11, Shafer 3-0-8, Duclona 3-3-9, Theork 5-6-17.
PPC (26-2): Ujagbor 9-2-20, Price 0-2-2, Sprouse 2-1-5, Flowers-Smith 5-4-15, Graziani 7-15-29, Laidley 4-2-10.
3-pointers: Flowers-Smith, Hernandez 3, Shafer 2, Theork, Hancock, Green, Lord. Half: PPC 30-27.