The Buccaneers had their chances in the final moments against the Bloodhounds. But several missed shots doomed Mainland to an early playoff exit.
When the Bloodhounds’ Isaiah Turner drove toward the baseline, there was no one to meet him at the rim. When Turner slammed the ball through the basket to give Auburndale a 5-point lead over Mainland with 30 seconds left in regulation, the crowd packed into the Tracy McGrady Gymnasium erupted.
Five seconds later, Buccaneers guard Jordan Sears ran into one of Auburndale’s players as Sears sprinted toward the basket for a layup — charge.
The gym grew even rowdier.
However, Buccaneers guard Taron Keith stole the inbounds pass, pulled up for a deep 3-pointer and nailed the shot — and was fouled. He missed the free throw, but Mainland was now down just 2 points with 15 seconds to play.
They intentionally fouled Auburndale forward Nathan Beymer. Beymer, who had torched the Buccaneers to the tune of 19 points and 11 rebounds, missed the front end of a 1-and-1 free throw and the Buccaneers were able to track down the loose ball.
Mainland’s Johnny Brown, who has made his fair share of last-second game-winners, dribbled the ball down the court. He used a screen and drove left toward the basket, but his bank shot didn’t go in.
The Buccaneers rebounded and passed the ball to Sears, who was wide open at the top of the 3-point line.
“If the game is on the line,” Mainland coach Joe Giddens said, “I want the ball in Jordan Sears’ hands.”
Despite six previous misses from beyond the arc, the release felt perfect. The shot was on line. There was no way it could miss.
It hung on the rim for a brief moment before spinning out. The Bloodhounds rebounded the ball and time expired.
The Buccaneers’ 2018-19 season came to an end with a 49-47 loss to Auburndale in the Class 7A regional semifinals on the night of Tuesday, Feb. 26, at Auburndale High School. The Buccaneers (26-2) beat the Bloodhounds, which hasn’t lost a game in 2019, in Round 1 of the playoffs last season.
“We knew they were going to come to fight,” Giddens said. “It was a tough way to lose.”
Mainland was on a 26-game win streak before Tuesday night’s loss.
“It is a great accomplishment,” Giddens said, “but if you don’t win it all, it doesn’t really mean anything.”
Many of the Buccaneers’ players dropped to the court and bowed their heads in disappointment. One of those players was combo guard Rodney Rhoden, who went 7-of-9 from the field for 14 points against the Bloodhounds.
It was the last game of Rhoden’s high school career. That realization hit him when the buzzer sounded.
“I think Mainland is the best school I could have ever gone to,” said Rhoden, who transferred to Mainland from Spruce Creek his sophomore year. “When I first came, I was skeptical. Everyone was telling me not to go there. But I think we turned the program around and put Mainland basketball back on the map.”
“I’m proud of this team we have and the people I’ve met. I’m just happy to call these guys that I fought with tonight my brothers.”