LAKELAND, Fla. – Jackson’s basketball team knows the history well and 1993 was a long time ago.
For the first time in more than 25 years, the Tigers are heading to the state championship game after knocking off Tampa Catholic 69-55 in the Class 5A state semifinals on Wednesday at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland.
Not since current Jackson coach James Collins was a senior on the Tigers in 1993 — they beat Rockledge for the fifth title in program history on March 13, 1993 — has the program played for a state championship.
That all changes Thursday when the Tigers (25-6) will face Fort Lauderdale’s University School (27-4) at 4:30 p.m. for the title.
“I’m extremely proud of my kids. We worked really hard to get here," Collins said. "My kids are the one reason we are here and that’s it.”
Collins, the state’s Mr. Basketball that season before going on to a stellar career at Florida State, is in his 11th season as head coach at his alma mater. He’d never taken the Tigers past the third round before this season.
Jackson, a district runner-up to Bolles, won three playoff games on the road and then pulled away from Tampa Catholic with an authoritative second half to earn a spot in the final.
Jackson turned a 24-all game at the break into a significant Tigers lead with a solid stretch that spanned the third quarter and the opening minutes of the fourth. The Tigers got a basket by Logan West to go up 56-41 with 4:07 to play and stayed ahead after that.
“I knew how important it was for me to come through," West said. "I had to come stronger in the second half for us to win.”
Randolph Myers had 16 points and David Daniels had 15 for the Tigers. Joshua Knox's 11 points and West's 10 followed in an all-around balanced day on the court for Jackson.
“The start to the second half was very important," Collins said. "We weren’t turning the corner on the pick and roll in the first half. When we did that in the second half we got going.”
State semifinal games for area public school programs have been difficult territory. Since the 2000 season, teams from the First Coast have played in 22 final four games, going 8-14.
Gateway Conference schools are 6-7 in those games.