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Lely battles back from 16-point third-quarter deficit but can't get the equalizer at the end, falling to St. Petersburg-Gibbs Andrew Sodergren, andy.sodergren@naplesnews.com, 239-263-4731

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The end came earlier than expected, but Thursday night’s loss in the Class 6A regional quarterfinals doesn’t tarnish what was an outstanding season for the Lely boys basketball team.

The Trojans fell 54-51 at home to St. Petersburg-Gibbs, battling back from a 16-point third-quarter deficit to give themselves a chance late in the game. Lely had two final possessions where a three would have tied the game. The first one ended with a turnover and after a gift turnover by the Gladiators gave the Trojans the ball back with just under a second remaining, a desperation three by Byntley Theork sailed just off the mark. Lely finished the year 19-7, the Trojans’ most wins since going 20-12 in the 2012-13 campaign – coach Fritz Jacques’ first with the program. Lely also won its third district championship since Jacques took over.

“This group right here made us proud,” Jacques said. “They brought Lely basketball back on the map. We’re going to take some time off, and we’ll be back in the weight room getting ready for next year.”

Thursday night’s loss really came down to a lull bridging the entire second quarter and the first few minutes of the third where the Trojans just couldn’t get going. That turned what had been a tie game after one quarter into a 16-point hole three minutes into the third.

“They went into a zone and slowed the game down on us,” Lely coach Fritz Jacques said. “We took some shots that weren’t falling, so we had to get the ball inside and start moving the ball around more. We sped the game back up in the fourth quarter with our press on defense and were able to get back in the game, but we couldn’t find a way to finish.”

Lely employed a furious press to force turnovers, also taking advantage of Gibbs’ foul trouble to whittle away the deficit at the free throw line. But Gibbs had just enough to hold off the Trojans in the end.

“We take pride in defense, these kids have a lot of pride, a lot of heart,” Jacques said. “I love them to death. I’m just extremely proud of them. I know we came up short tonight, but again I’m extremely proud of my boys, how they played defense all year and how they became a family.”

Byntley Theork scored a game-high 15 points for the Trojans, with Whitley Theork adding nine and Jayden Noel eight. Noel, Byntley Theork and McCline St. Tulus will return to the starting lineup next year. Point guard Whitley Theork and big man Matt Talko will graduate in the spring.

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