St. John Paul II Boys Basketball holds off John Carroll in the first round

BOCA RATON — St. John Paul II boys’ basketball coach Scott Williams expected a tough, physical defensive struggle from Fort Pierce-John Carroll Thursday night. He has it. His top player, Kyle Edison, wanted his hands on the ball while the game was on the line. He has it.

All was going well for the host Eagles, who clinched a 46-43 win in a Region 3-Class 3A Quarterfinals. They will host Lakeland-Santa Fe Catholic in the regional semifinals on Tuesday at 7:00 p.m.

Edison led all players by 20 points and scored his team’s last eight points. He put the Eagles (16-10) ahead 42-41 with an undisputed layup in the transition phase with 2:22 minutes remaining, then pushed the lead to three with a driving basket with 1:39 left.

Willie Denaud brought out the Golden Rams (22-5) with a basket in the color within 1:05. Then the Rams, who had only one foul at that point in the second half, fouled the Eagles six times in 14 seconds to put them in the bonus and force them to the foul line. Edison absorbed the last of those fouls with 25.9 seconds left, and after shaking off some shoulder pain, he sunk both free throws.

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The Golden Rams attempted to set up an equalizing 3-point shot, but the Eagles hit the ball wide with 1.1 seconds left, then forced a turnover on the subsequent throw-in and celebrated.

“At the end when we called that timeout at 25 seconds [remaining], he said, ‘find a way to get me the ball. I go to the line and take two free throws. And that’s what great players do,” Williams said of Edison, who came on and led the team in goals (15.5) and rebounds (8.3).

The Eagles led 16-7 early in the second quarter. Then Aaron McFarlane put John Carroll back in the game by hitting four 3-pointers before halftime. At the break, the teams were level on points at 24.

Brian Wright’s 3-pointer gave the Eagles a 33-26 lead at 4:54 in the third quarter. Led by Denaud, who scored 12 of his 13 points in the second half, the Rams crawled back and ended the quarter at 35 points.

“We knew they were a great defensive team,” Williams said of John Carroll. “We were expected to score low points. We thought maybe the team that had the ball last would win. We knew it wasn’t going to be a sporty ups and downs. It wasn’t going to be a 70, 80 point game. It was going to be an ugly game. … Somehow our kids found a way to fight back against them because they kicked us on the boards towards the end.”

John Carroll took his first lead of the game early in the fourth quarter, but Wright responded with a 3-pointer to put the Eagles back in front. Then the Eagles had to be patient in crunch time because the Rams had to repeatedly foul.

“It actually worked in our favor. They had to take some time off,” Williams said. “We knew they were going to keep fouling us, it was just a question of whether we would be disciplined enough to execute and put the ball in play. So I was a bit more nervous.”

Williams’ greatest benefit from the win was his team’s response to the challenge presented by John Carroll.

“What I liked about our kids was our toughness tonight. We’ve reached their toughness,” Williams said. “We didn’t panic. We got up. They came back, took the lead. We didn’t fold. We stayed together and our kids ended up finding a way to do it.”