Sports Editor

OHS wins 9A state title

The Osceola Kowboys celebrate winning the Class 9A state basketball championship.

Diwun Black the dominant force: 35 points in 50-43 title game win over Wellington

OHS Diwun Black with the trophy

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Diwun Black, who had 35 points and 10 rebounds in Osceola's 50-43 title-clinching win over Wellington, poses with the Class 9A state championship trophy.

The Osceola Kowboys made a quick run to the locker room at halftime of the Class 9A state championship Saturday. Playing for their second state title in three years, they trailed the Wellington Wolverines, 30-23.

Joining OHS Coach Nate Alexander in the locker room was a cast of guys — point guard Josh Marte, wing players Jaduhkiss Soto, Isaiah and Jeremiah Palermo and power forward Armani Thomas — who had played in dozens of high-stakes games like this in the last three years.

He also had center Diwun Black.

A seven-point deficit? It was no big deal. This was in … the … bag.

And, boy, did Black come out of the bag.

OHS Diwun Black with the trophy

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Diwun Black, who had 35 points and 10 rebounds in Osceola's 50-43 title-clinching win over Wellington, poses with the Class 9A state championship trophy.

The 6-6, 240-pound center, who will play football at the University of Florida this fall, put on one of the most dominating single-game performances ever seen at the state tournament in Lakeland in what likely will be his last competitive basketball game.

Saying Black "took the game over" is an understatement. He scored 35 points, added 10 rebounds and three steals and scored 23 straight Kowboy points — all of their points in the second and third quarters and 33 of their 36 points from the second quarter on  — in the title-seizing, come-from-behind 50-43 win over Wellington. He was also 10-for-10 from the free-throw line, all in the second half.

No other Kowboy scored more than three points, although they provided big moments on the boards and in defense. It’s the third boys basketball state championship at Osceola, adding to the 1983 3A and 2017 9A titles. The 1982-83 team was a perfect 37-0, but this year’s seniors have eclipsed that by winning two in their careers.

The new banner will go up with those, the 1998 football team and 2009 wrestling team as team state champs.

It’s also the fourth straight year an Osceola County program (Poinciana’s boys, 2016 Class 5A title; City of Life’s girls, 2018 Class 2A) has brought a trophy back from Lakeland.

For more photos and content, see the News-Gazette's print edition Thursday

Ironically, Osceola beat Wellington in the 2017 state semifinals, needing a bucket with 1.5 seconds left for a 52-50 that led to that title. South Miami, who the Kowboys beat in Friday’s semifinal, was also in the Final Four that year and lost to Wekiva.

Black said was prepared to take the game over if called for and the matchups were right.

“In the locker room I told myself I was going to give 1000 percent on every play, on every possession,” said Black, who moved from Mississippi over the summer but did not become academically eligible for sports until mid-January, missing the football season. “I had never won a state championship before this. With great teammates like (Isaiah Palermo) and Marte, anything’s possible.”

Marte, running the point, said he was just fine feeding Black the ball.

“It wasn’t our night (for scoring), but it was Diwun’s night, and when I see a teammate getting hot like that, I’m going to get him the ball,” Marte said. “He scores, we score.”

Isaiah Palermo said Osceola won because everyone played their roles.

“I already knew what (Diwun) was capable of,” he said. “I just let him go to work and made sure I did what I had to do on defense.

Alexander called the performance “a work of art on a court.”

“I’ve never seen one player take over a game like that. It goes to show what’s inside that kid,” the coach said. “He’s got a ton of grit and heart.”

Osceola (25-7), riding Black’s back, opened the third quarter on a 12-2 run to erase the Wolverines’ (24-7) advantage. The Kowboys experience then took over and did “all the little things” very well. They held the Wolverines to 3-for-16 shooting in the second half (18.8 percent) and did not allow a field goal for the last 7:35 of the game.

Osceola trailed 15-14 after a fast-paced first-quarter, but got the lead back after Black opened the second quarter with a dunk off a steal and a three-pointer to make it 19-15. Wellington then closed the half with a 15-4 run, including the last eight points of the half, to take that seven-point halftime lead.

The Kowboys were not shooting well (9-for-32, 28 percent) to that point, and it didn't hurt that Wellington was 12-of-13 from the free throw line in that first half.

“It was a battle of runs and we knew it was going to happen,” Marte said. “We kept our heads high and our minds right and said we were going to win the first three minutes.”

How’d that happen? By letting Black walk back out on the court.

Whether it was going strong to the hoop, putting back a miss, or taking a feed from Marte on a rotation play and getting fouled, he jet-packed a 12-2 Osceola run to open the second half. His lay-up on a feed from Palermo with 2:09 left in the third gave the Kowboys a 37-36 lead heading to the fourth quarter.

Wellington’s Chris Walker (nine points) hit a short jumper 25 seconds into the last stanza — it was the Wolverine’s last field goal, getting only free throws the rest of the way. Palermo followed by getting fouled on a made layup and hitting the free throw, his first points, to take the lead back. Osceola led 44-43, when Black scored on a strong move to the hoop with 2:03 left, then was fouled pulling down a rebound on Wellington’s next possession and, with OHS in the bonus coolly sunk a pair of free throws to make it 48-43 with 1:28 left.

With 42.3 seconds left, WHS’ De’ante Perez was fouled, but missed the open end of the 1-and-1 — just the Wolverines’ second miss from the line on the night — and Soto came up with a big rebound that likely iced the game and the championship.

Soon after, the game clock exhausted and the Kowboys celebrated winning it all again in a pile at midcourt, removing any doubt who the best team in Class 9A is this season.

 “A lot of people doubted us, especially after our big man (6-9 center Omar Payne, who transferred to Montverde Academy but was in attendance Saturday) left,” Palermo said.

Black made his Osceola debut Jan. 22 against Gateway — 13 games ago. The Kowboys won all 13, and closed the year on a 15-game winning streak.

“It probably worked out as good as it could have,” Alexander said. “If we get him in November, who knows what he’s got left in the tank in March, as hard as he goes. Maybe we don’t beat Oak Ridge and go back to state.

“Or maybe we do.”