Mainland is looking to avenge last year's playoff loss to Auburndale.
With his team down 2, the Buccaneers point guard Jordan Sears was wide open at the top of the 3-point line as the seconds melted off the game clock.
Despite six previous misses from beyond the arc, the release felt perfect. The shot was on line. It hung on the rim for a brief moment before spinning out, and the Bloodhounds rebounded the ball as time expired.
That was how Mainland's 2018-19 season, and 26-game winning streak, came to an end: a 49-47 loss to Auburndale in the Class 7A regional semifinal on Feb. 26 at Auburndale High School.
The sting of that loss, which was the Buccaneers' second loss of that entire season, still remains.
“It’s fuel to the fire," said Sears, who scored 32 points in Mainland's 63-57 season-opening victory over Palatka the night of Thursday, Nov. 21, at Mainland High School. "It's something we can build on."
The Buccaneers are almost a completely new team in 2019-20. The Buccaneers return three starters from last season in Sears, guard Taron Keith and center Shayne Brennen. But they also graduated prolific scorer and athlete Rodney Rhoden, who now plays Division I basketball at Long Beach State, and dynamic forward Johnny Brown, who plays for Florida State College at Jacksonville.
“I miss those guys a lot," Sears said. "They were my brothers. But the show goes on.”
The Buccaneers have several new additions, including a pair of talented freshmen: Dontrell Thompson and Nigel Cook. The Buccaneers also added Ty'Rion Denson, a 6-foot-7, 300-pound transfer from Orlando's Colonial High School.
“They’re good players who are going to be able to get good minutes for us," Mainland head coach Joe Giddens said. "I’ve got some experienced guys and a lot of youth. We’re just going to have to keep playing and see what happens.”
The goal for this team is always the same: to go as deep in the state playoffs as possible.
To attain that goal, the Buccaneers will have to find a way to form chemistry and take pride defensively, according to Buccaneers guard Kenny Witherspoon.
“If we work hard in practice, it’s going to show on the court," he said.