CRESTVIEW — Greg Watson saw focus on Wednesday.
Focus in the film room. Focus in layup lines. Focus in defensive sets and offensive drills.
Focus that could potentially win championships.
Fewer than 24 hours after senior guard Marcus Purcell had buried his improbably deep, game-winning 3-pointer against Choctaw on Tuesday night, the Crestview basketball team was back at work creating a plan to topple its Elite Eight opponent, Columbia, at 7 p.m. EST in Lake City. The Bulldogs’ stunning region semifinal victory seemed firmly in the rearview mirror.
“We had a really good day of practice, and I told ’em the other night to enjoy that one and we’ll worry about Columbia the next day,” said Watson, the Bulldogs coach. “We came in and watched film during basketball class and then had a good practice yesterday afternoon, so I think we’re focused.”
Focus, Watson often said during the regular season, was the only thing holding his team back from being a contender. During a mid January contest against Niceville, he pulled his entire starting lineup midway through the third quarter for lackadaisical effort.
This Crestview team, which is making its first Elite Eight trip since the Bulldogs went back-to-back in 2014 and 2015, seems far removed from its January counterpart. It’s a team that doesn’t want to go home.
“We gotta be able to not let that Choctaw game be the end of our season,” Watson said. “We gotta stay hungry and understand what the real goal is.”
Now winners of two straight road playoff games, the Bulldogs (23-6 overall) are averaging 63.6 points per game and holding opponents to just 50 points.
Averaging 16.1 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game, Purcell leads a starting lineup comprised of solely seniors. Twins Devin and Jaden Voisin man the other guard spots, while Chris Basil and Kyle Jackson hold down the forward positions.
Devin is the team’s leading rebounder, averaging 7.6 boards, 11.2 points and 2.5 steals a night, and Jaden is the team’s second-leading scorer, averaging 12.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, three assists and 2.2 steals.
Basil averages eight points and 5.8 rebounds, Jackson averages 4.7 points and 5.6 rebounds, and junior Mason Cooper averages 7.8 points and six rebounds off the bench.
Each will be key if Crestview is to secure the program’s first Final Four appearance in 32 years; the Bulldogs haven’t been to state semifinal since 1987. That Crestview team beat Suncoast 70-54 before it fell to Clearwater Central Catholic 68-47 in the 2A state championship game.
The Bulldogs last won a state championship in 1985, claiming the 3A title with 58-55 victory against Northeast.
Columbia (17-13), meanwhile, has won four straight, including a tight 46-42 victory against Gainesville this past Tuesday, and like Crestview, the Tigers have a flair for the dramatic.
The Hurricanes had rallied from 10-point halftime deficit during the Region 1-7A semifinals to retake the lead 34-32 at the end of the third quarter and led by eight with four minutes left.
That didn’t deter Columbia or Tiger senior Bobby Fulton, who scored eight of his game-high 13 points in fourth quarter, from finishing on a 14-8 to secure their Elite Eight berth.
“They’re talented,” Watson said. “Just from watching film and talking to people, they have really good guard play. They try to spread you out and drive it. They have a couple of guys that can shoot it really well, knock it down.”
Offensively, Columbia is averaging 59.2 points per game. Junior Jordan Smith leads the attack, averaging a team-high 12 points per game on 48 percent shooting. A 6-foot-1 guard, Smith is one of six players to average at least five points per contest, the Tigers not afraid to spread the love.
Of the other five names on that list, junior Darrien Jones is Columbia’s leading passer, averaging 5.2 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 8.5 points per night, while freshman Marcus Peterson is the team’s leading rebounder, averaging 7.8 boards and five points.
“They really try to attack the paint drive and kick a lot for 3s,” Watson said. “They shoot a lot of 3s. They’re gonna shoot it better at home just like everybody else does.
“We’re just gonna have to be sound defensively and keep people in front of us, that way we don’t have to over help, and close out on shooters.”
Defensively, Columbia is allowing 52.3 points per game this year, though that number has dipped slightly to 49.5 points during its postseason run. Schematically, the Tigers keep it simple, Watson said, working mostly in halfcourt man and packing the lane to force jump shots.
“To be real honest, I think it’s a pretty even matchup,” Watson said. “I think we kinda mirror each other. We try to play a little bit faster defensively and speed people up more. Other than that, it looks like we’re pretty evenly matched.”