Trailing at 32-27 at halftime, the Crusaders came alive and beat Lake Highland Prep 65-54 to advance to Saturday’s championship game against Fort Lauderdale Stranahan.

LAKELAND – The second half, and the game, belonged to Tampa Catholic in the Class 4A semifinals of the FHSAA boys basketball state finals Thursday at the RP Funding Center.


The Crusaders, trailing Orlando Lake Highland Prep 32-27 at halftime, outscored the Highlanders 38-22 in the second half for a 65-54 victory to advance to Saturday’s Class 4A championship game at 12:30 p.m.


"The second half was totally different from what the first half was," Tampa Catholic coach Don Dziagwa said. "I have preached all year that if we’re going to be a championship team, we have to play better in the second half than what we do in the first half.


"We though we were right there (at halftime), we just needed to pick up and do some things better in the second half. Obviously, we did," Dziagwa said.


The Crusaders (26-5), ranked No. 4 overall in Florida and No. 1 in Class 4A, will face Fort Lauderdale Stranahan in the Class 4A championship game Saturday at 12:30 p.m. Stranahan advanced with a 59-54 win over Jacksonville Paxon earlier Thursday.


This is Tampa Catholic’s fifth consecutive trip to the FHSAA final four, but the Crusaders haven’t won a state championship since 1995. They lost in the 2017 Class 5A championship game to Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian 65-48.


"They were really well prepared and well coached," Lake Highland Prep coach Benjamin Fratrik said. "They played really hard and you could tell their seniors, this mattered to them."


For the senior-dominated Crusaders, it was all about the second half.


"At halftime, we knew we always fight back," said 6-foot-9 senior Johni Broome, who led the Crusaders with 22 points. "We all kind of got together and we all knew we couldn’t let it be our last game."


The Crusaders scored the first six points of the second half, four by Broome, to take a 33-32 lead. After five lead changes, they took control of the game with an 11-2 run to extend their lead to 48-38 just before the end of the third quarter.


"It was really important for us to get off to a good start in the second half," Dziagwa said.


The key, said senior guard Marcus Crutchfield, was just picking up the intensity.


"We picked up our energy and intensity and used it on the defensive end," said Crutchfield, the son of former Tampa Bay Buccaneer and current Carolina Panther defensive lineman Gerald McCoy. "That got us going, creating some turnovers and some pressure and that transitioned to offense."


In the fourth quarter, the Crusaders built their lead to 16 points, 63-47, with 2:15 left.


Along with Broome’s 22 points, Crutchfield had 16 and Kobe Knox 13 for Tampa Catholic.


Lake Highland Prep (24-7), which led by as many as seven points, 28-21, in the first half, was led by sophomore Jared Berry with 18, Miles Stewart with 12 and Gabe Ferguson with 11.


LAKE HIGHLAND PREP (54) – Jah Quinones 3-9 0-0 6, Victor Brown Jr. 0-4 2-2 2, Jared Berry 7-18 2-2 18, Alexander Webster 0-0 0-0 0, Ian Stanfield 0-0 0-0 0, Ben Jablonski 0-0 0-0 0, Sean Stewart 1-3 0-0 2, Rock Swann 1-1 0-0 3, Gabe Ferguson 6-16 1-4 13, Miles Stewart 4-10 0-0 10. Totals 22-61 5-8 54.


TAMPA CATHOLIC (65) – Alijah Harrison 1-5 3-5 5, Preston Bolling 0-0 0-0 0, Jayan Reid 0-0 0-0 0, Johni Broome 8-13 5-7 22, Kobe Knox 5-11 3-4 13, Marcellus Crutchfield 5-5 4-5 16, Derrick Mitchell 0-2 0-0 0, Zachary Ellison 0-0 0-0 0, Isaiah Elmore 3-8 1-5 9. Totals 22-44 16-26 65.


Lake Highland Prep ; 16 ; 16 ; 8 ; 14 ; – ; 54


Tampa Catholic ; 17 ; 10 ; 21 ; 17 ; – ; 65


3-pt FG: Lk Highland Prep 5-18 (Quinones 0-3, Brown Jr. 0-1, Berry 2-7, Swann 1-1, Stewart 2-6), Tampa Catholic 5-10 (Harrison 0-1, Broome 1-1, Knox 0-4, Crutchfield 2-2, Elmore 2-2). Rebounds: Lk Highland Prep 27 (Ferguson 7), Tampa Catholic 41 (Broome 12). Fouls: Lk Highland Prep 19, Tampa Catholic 14. Fouled out: Brown Jr. Stewart. Technical: none. Assists: Lk Highland Prep 8 (Swann 2, Stewart 2), Tampa Catholic 10 (Crutchfield 4). Steals: Lk Highland Prep 7 (Quinones 2, Berry 2, Ferguson 2), Tampa Catholic 6 (Harrison 3). Blocked shots: Lk Highland Prep 2 (Stewart 1, Ferguson 1), Tampa Catholic 6 (Broome 4). Turnovers: Lk Highland Prep 9, Tampa Catholic 15.