Williston boys claim state title

Williston basketball team
The Williston Red Devils pose for photos after winning the state championship.
Photo by Mike Ridaught

For the first time in program history Williston High School has won a boys basketball state title.

Senior Greg Maxwell scored a game-high 22 points as the top-seeded Red Devils defeated No. 3 seed Chipley, 58-49, to win the Class 1A state title at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland on Friday night.

“We just made history for the city,” Maxwell said. “I feel proud.”

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After scoring just three points in the state semifinals against Franklin County, Maxwell set the tone very early in the game.

He scored off the opening tip for a quick 2-0 lead.

“He does that every game,” said senior point guard Jeythian Merced. “If he gets that first shot you already know he’s going to have a good game.”

Maxwell had a great game, adding six rebounds and eight steals. He finished with nine points in the first quarter.

“I knew I had to show up tonight,” said Maxwell, who said he had to adjust to the new arena by pushing his shot up higher and going stronger to the hole. “I let my team down, no rebounds, barely steals, so I knew tonight I had to step up big. I was locked in. I was ready to play.”

Greg Maxwell scored 22 points to win player of the game honors.

The Red Devils (25-7) took advantage of a fast start, outscoring the Tigers, 23-9, in the opening quarter.

Junior Kyler Lamb, who scored eight of his 12 points in the first period, hit two free throws with 4:37 remaining in the first quarter for a 9-6 lead. That was the beginning of a 12-0 run.

Lamb finished the run with a layup for a 19-6 lead.

Junior Quincy Parker (10 points) hit two 3-pointers, including his second late in the first quarter for the 14-point advantage.

Williston wasn’t done yet.

The Red Devils held the Tigers (21-7) to just two points in the second quarter and extended it to a 32-11 lead at the half by finishing the second quarter on a 7-0 run.

“Our defensive effort was outstanding and our offense, at times, was pretty good in the first half,” said Williston coach Jim Ervin. “Second half we just got out of rhythm. It’s a game of runs. Luckily we started a run at the end.”

Chipley’s Kyler Bryant (13 points) hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer at the end of the third quarter and the momentum carried over into the final period.

Even though Chipley scored 17 points in the quarter, Williston still had a 13-point lead heading into the final eight minutes.

Following a steal, Chipley’s Antonio Lewis (13 points) made a layup to make it an 11-point game.

The Tigers’ full court pressure started to affect Williston, which only had four turnovers the entire first half but turned it over five times in the third quarter and six times in the final period.

“They made a great run and made great adjustments as coaches,” Ervin said. “We came out and were a little flat and got in foul trouble. We just did not secure the basketball like we needed to and make the right decisions on the court.”

With four minutes remaining in the third, Chipley’s Izayah Eldridge drained a 3-pointer in the right corner as the Tigers went on a 7-0 run, closing the gap to six, 47-41.

But Maxwell answered with a 3-pointer of his own for a 50-41 lead with 2:34 remaining. The senior scored nine points in the final period.

“Greg’s such a great player,” Ervin said. “He’s going to do great things at the next level. He had a tough night the other night. We talked about what he can do to help his team win a state title, wasn’t really worried about scoring. That’s a lot of growth that he’s had this year as a young man and maturing as a basketball player.”

Chipley got within three, 52-49, on a layup by Antonio Lewis with 39 seconds to play.

On the inbounds, Merced got fouled and was briefly shaken up.

After missing the front end of a one-and-one with 1:33 to play, Merced calmly sank both free throws for a 54-49 lead with 38 seconds remaining.

Senior Jeythian Merced directs a play during Friday’s title game.

“On the first one-and-one I rushed it, I didn’t take my time,” Merced said. “But on the two free throws that I made I was hurt and I had to take my time.”

Merced, who finished with five assists, scored seven of his 10 points in the second half.

“Jey is what you want out of a leader at the point guard position,” Ervin said. “He can finish. He can knock down free throws, and he can defend for his size. Forget about basketball, there’s not a much better kid than Jey.”

Maxwell was 4-for-4 from the free throw line in the final 30 seconds to help put the game on ice as Williston closed the game with a 6-0 run.

“We had a goal to win a state title,” said Ervin, who won his first state title in 26 years of coaching. “I told them to take care of the basketball, and hit free throws down the stretch, and they finally calmed down and took care of business.”

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