The Pirates battled to the end in a back-and-forth fourth quarter.
Flagler Palm Coast boys basketball coach Derrick Williams said he realized early in the fourth quarter that the Bulldogs’ annual crosstown-rivalry game with Matanzas would come down to the final shot.
And he had no doubt who was going to shoot it for his team.
It was Alex Aviles’ night.
The 5-foot-10 senior guard scored a season-high 32 points, including the final three baskets for FPC, as the Bulldogs edged the Pirates 66-64 on Wednesday, Jan. 12 at FPC.
“I feel Alex is one of the best guards in the two counties, and he made plays for us.”
DERRICK WILLIAMS, FPC coach
“I feel Alex is one of the best guards in the two counties, and he made plays for us,” Williams said.
Aviles was hot from the opening tip, scoring 14 points, including two 3-pointers, in the first quarter. But he and his coach weren’t satisfied.
“Coach is always saying, ‘Attack, attack, attack,’” Aviles said. “In the first half I was shooting a little too much. Coach told me to attack, so I did.”
He hit a driving layup with 2:39 left to put the home team up 62-61 and then knocked down a 12-foot jumper in the lane to make it 64-61.
After Matanzas tied the score at 64-64 with Dawson Tanner's technical-foul free throw and a layup in the post from Ty Smith, Aviles drove the lane again to put the Bulldogs up 66-64 with 1:13 left.
Knighten's steal seals the deal
Matanzas fell to 0-12, but seven of those losses have been by single digits. This was the Pirates’ third two-point loss in coach Henry Robinson’s debut season.
“I feel with all these close games, we have to learn to finish,” said Matanzas senior Dawson Tanner.
The Pirates had their chances.
After falling behind 53-47, Tanner, who scored 14 points, hit two free throws to tie the score at 57-57 with 5:15 remaining.
The teams went back and forth the rest of the way. After Matanzas missed in the final minute, FPC tried to run out the clock with its two-point lead. Robinson yelled to his players to foul. They finally did, with 6.7 seconds left.
“I guess nobody heard,” Tanner said. “It was loud, really loud. Finally, they heard.”
FPC was not yet in the bonus, so the Bulldogs had to inbound just past half court. Williams told junior Karl Knighten to catch the ball in the backcourt and run out the clock.
But the pass was not quite in the backcourt. Knighten caught it in the air, landed behind the half-court line and was called for a backcourt violation with 4.7 seconds left.
“I really gambled on that. I shouldn’t have gone for it, but he lost the ball, and it was on the ground.”
KARL KNIGHTEN, FPC guard
That gave Matanzas one more opportunity. Robinson told his players to try to pass the ball into the post to Smith, who led the Pirates with 24 points. But Smith was double-teamed.
“I told Rene (Corvo), ‘If the ball comes to you, you have to get the shot off,’’’ Robinson said.
Corvo, received the pass and tried to dribble. Knighten quickly pounced, stealing the ball and running out the clock.
“I really gambled on that,” Knighten said. “I shouldn’t have gone for it, but he lost the ball, and it was on the ground.”
The Bulldogs, who improved to 7-10 with the win, have been no strangers to close games themselves. This was their third game in a row that was decided by four points or less and their second straight close win.
“This was a rivalry game,” Knighten said. “So, the records are out the window. They’re going to try to give us their best shot.”