FORT WALTON BEACH — This wasn’t quite right, and Xavier Cain-Fuller knew it.
More than six minutes into the first quarter of the District 2-7A championship game and the Choctawhatchee High boys’ basketball team was trailing 14-7. And also remember that Crestview needed just a little more than two minutes to score the first six points in the much-anticipated rematch for the title.
The top-ranked Class 7A team in the state of Florida? The Indians, before a packed house, weren’t the best team in their home Tee Pee on Friday night. Well, not yet.
“We haven’t played in so long and it was tough there at the start,” said Cain-Fuller after the Indians pulled away in the second half for a 73-61 win. “We had to get together and get it right and play basketball. And you saw it, we did.”
But back to that first quarter.
With 1:47 on the game clock, Choctaw ran off seven straight points to tie the score at 14. And the Indians did it again right before halftime, erasing a one-point deficit by scoring the final seven points for a 30-24 lead.
Crestview never got closer than eight points in the second half. A winner in six of the last seven meetings of this bitter rivalry, Choctaw had erased last year’s 80-72 upset loss for the district championship.
“District championships aren’t given to you every year,” Choctaw head coach Andy Thigpen said. “This isn’t easy, especially against a team as good as Crestview. But the kids are playing great and they persevered and played hard.
“I think we had an edge to us from what happened last year, but you have to play the game. We did that well enough tonight to win and we’re very happy about that.”
A major factor for the Indians was Diante Smith, who torched Crestview for a game-high 26 points.
In that crucial ending to the first quarter, the 6-foot-6 junior forward had five points, including a 3-pointer with just over one minute to play. He scored the final points of the first half with a dagger from the top of the key.
Smith, however, was just warming up as he scored 15 of his total points in the second half as the Indians pulled away.
“We had 10 days off and I think it showed early,” said Smith, referring to Choctaw’s 84-79 loss in triple-overtime against Rutherford on Feb. 5 to end the regular season. “But we wanted this game.
“Our last loss against a district team was to (Crestview) in the championship game last year. This feels good to win against them and now it’s time to move on. We have very high goals.”
After Smith made a brilliant flying tip-in through the lane off a missed 3-pointer and followed with a dunk at the 5:05 mark of the third quarter for a 38-28 lead, the writing was on the wall for the Bulldogs.
The outcome was basically cemented after Joshua Williams drained a shot from the top of the key and Aron Scott completed a three-point play for a 43-28 bulge with 3:09 to play in the period.
Choctaw simply is too good to give up that kind of lead. This night was proof.
“We played hard, but we didn’t play good, and you have to do both against a team like Choctaw,” Crestview coach Greg Watson said. “We attacked them and finished early, but when we got behind, that’s a tough way to play against them.
“They are a very talented team, capable of putting together runs, and that was something tonight we just didn’t play well enough to keep up with.”
Behind Smith for Choctaw (23-2) was Williams with 12 points and Stacey Jones with 11. Marcus Purcell led Crestview (20-5) with 14 points, followed by Devin Voisin and Kyle Jackson with 12 points, and Jaden Voisin with 11.
Choctaw will be at home next Thursday to open regional play against the runner-up from District 1. Crestview will be on the road the same night against the District 1 champion.