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Middleton makes it close in the fourth but misses free throws as Plant wins 71-61.
By Joe Smith, Times Staff Writer
Published February 10, 2008
TAMPA - Plant's Sheldon Cooley was quiet early in Saturday's district final with Middleton. But according to teammate Chandler Flom, "He was just warming up."
The junior guard racked up 10 points in the final two minutes of the first half, including a dunk that brought the crowd to its feet, to help the Panthers pull away for a 71-61 win over the defending district champ.
Plant 23-4 will host Clearwater on Thursday in a region quarterfinal with the Tigers traveling to Pinellas Park.
Cooley, who had a game-high 28 points, and Flom (22) put the top-seeded Panthers up 17 in the fourth. But Middleton battled back with offensive rebounds, pulling to within seven. Had the Tigers not missed nine free throws in the fourth quarter, it could have made for a different game.
"Free throws can make you - or break you," said forward Khiry Anfield, who tied for a team-high 17 points. "We just pressed too much, trying to get a 14-point shot. And that's not possible."
The Tigers (18-9), coming off a 20-point upset of No. 2 seed Chamberlain the night before, had its sights on another shocker when Flom fouled out with just less than four minutes left. Flom, a 6-foot-3 forward, had been playing some of his best basketball of the season (including a 26-point performance Friday, when he was perfect from the field).
But Cooley and Co. kept their composure with Becker Archerd (eight points) hitting some big shots and Rob Alexander sinking two free throws down the stretch.
"I think we showed we're a deeper team than people give us credit for," Plant coach Mike Phillips said. "We played 9-10 guys tonight."