It was Mainland's first district championship since the 2013-14 season.
The Buccaneers’ Rodney Rhoden sprinted down the court with the ball in his hands — with a trio of Sharks behind him. Mainland was leading rival Atlantic 47-45 with 5.7 seconds remaining in regulation of the District 5-7A championship, but Rhoden saw a clear path to the basket.
He wasn’t going to wait for the Sharks to foul him. He didn’t want to leave any doubt.
“My thought was to attack,” Rhoden said.
The 6-foot-5 shooting guard rose high into the air and slammed the ball through the hoop with his right hand. The crowd packed into the stands at Seabreeze High School’s gym exploded with applause after the game-sealing dunk.
The Buccaneers captured their first district title since the 2013-14 season, defeating Atlantic 49-48 on the night of Friday, Feb. 15. It was their fifth straight win over the Sharks and their third straight this season.
Mainland built an 11-point lead after first half behind 11 points from transfer guard Jordan Sears. However, the Sharks fought back in the second half. A 3-pointer by Kendall Bean, followed by a steal and layup by Kevin Beans, cut the Buccaneers’ lead to 41-39 with 4:30 to play in the fourth quarter.
The second-half rally by the Sharks was expected by Mainland coach Joe Giddens.
“I knew it was going to be that way when you’re playing against a coach like coach David Howard,” Giddens said. “He does a great job. But my kids just kept fighting.”
The battle-tested Buccaneers stayed in the moment. They were able to maintain their single-digit lead by playing tough defense, rebounding and sinking free throws.
“We were just telling ourselves that we had to play hard each possession,” said forward Johnny Brown, who scored a team-leading 14 points. “We had to stay calm even when things don’t go our way.”
The Buccaneers, who have just one loss this season, move on to the playoffs, where they were one game short of advancing to the Final Four last season.
They’ll host Lake Gibson at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, at Mainland High School.