SPRING HILL — The Nature Coast Sharks used the inside game to get going against the George Jenkins Eagles in boys basketball Thursday. Then the Sharks used the long ball to pull away.
The Sharks led from beginning to end and shot their way to a 73-55 victory over the Eagles in the semifinals of the Nature Coast Christmas Classic on Thursday.
Robert McAfee had 22 points to lead the Sharks (10-0), who will take on Alonso in the final of the second bracket Friday at 6:30 p.m. The Ravens (8-2) defeated Mitchell 62-40 in the first semifinal. It will be a rematch of last year's Christmas tournament final in which Nature Coast won.
Austin Rivera scored 10 of his 16 points in the third quarter, while Orien Adams scored 14 points for the Sharks.
Sophomore guard Adarius Lee led Jenkins (4-9) with 16 points, while sophomore forward Marvin Landy added 13. Jenkins will take on Mitchell in the third-place game Friday at 3:30 p.m.
Although undefeated in the regular season, the Sharks entered Thursday's game with a chip on their shoulders. The teams played in a preseason classic earlier this year and Jenkins won by more than 30 points.
That loss stuck in the minds of the Sharks so they were happy to get another shot at the Eagles.
"It definitely was a factor," McAfee said. "I don't know how much they had but we were determined to show them how much we can really play because they beat us pretty good in preseason.
"We came out with a lot more energy," he said. "We all trust each other more. We're better players in general. We're a better team."
The Sharks scored 10 of their 18 first-quarter points off of layups and led by 10. The lead was 35-25 at the half when Rivera went off, outscoring Jenkins 10-4 to push the Sharks' lead to 45-29. They led 48-33 after three and cruised from there.
"Austin is probably the best shooter I've ever seen and I've been here 13 years," said Nature Coast coach David Pisarcik said. "He's got unlimited range and he's got the green light. We're thankful they were going in."
Nature Coast isn't the only Tampa Bay team in a championship bracket. Armwood will take on Lakeland at 8 p.m. Friday. The Hawks beat Berkmar (Ga.) in the semis, 62-57.
"It was a great team effort," said Armwood coach Patrick Kelly, whose team improved to 4-4, . "We've been harping, harping and harping that we have to play as a unit, that we have to play together. We can't worry who gets the shine as long as we're winning. It's taken some time to buy in but this has been a really good last two days for us moving toward that goal.
"The season didn't start the way we wanted to, injuries, football guys still playing football. But now we've got our roster and we feel like if we keep buying in and playing as a unit and keep winning, we'll be all right."
Rick Brown, Times correspondent