Freedom makes statement in St. Petersburg Shootout
ST. PETERSBURG — Gibbs may have been missing one of its biggest keys to success, but Sheldon Odunna and Freedom had a message they wanted to get out.
"Gibbs is one of the best teams in (Pinellas) County, but we came out and proved that we're one of the best teams in (Hillsborough) County," said Odunna, whose strong defense and 17-point effort was a contributing factor to the Patriots' impressive 60-41 defeat of the Gladiators on Saturday night as part of the three-game St. Petersburg Shootout.
Along with impressive point guard Nasir Core (14 points, five assists, three steals), the pair helmed an impressive half-court zone trap that befuddled Gibbs (16-2) when it counted most — right at the start of the contest. Forcing eight first-quarter turnovers got Freedom's offense rolling quickly and efficiently, striding out to a 21-5 lead and never looking back.
"We're a team that bases most of our offense off of our defense," Odunna said. "Defense helps us keep our focus, that's Freedom defense and that's what we're all about."
Behind athletic guards D.J. Johnson (18 points) and Marquez Walls (15 points), the Gladiators were able to nibble the deficit from 20 points to 11 (38-27) with three minutes left in the third quarter. But a quick five-point run late in the third driven by Core's hustle extended into a 12-2 stretch that put the game away midway through the fourth quarter.
"Gibbs is really a good team, and I know they're missing their best player (sophomore David Pierce, out with an ACL tear), but I was impressed with how we executed our defense," said Freedom coach Cedric Smith. "I thought we did a good job of running our offense and not getting caught up in Gibbs' uptempo game. When we play too fast, we turn the ball over."
The Gladiators also couldn't take advantage of second-half foul trouble for Freedom (14-4), going 1-for-10 in the fourth quarter.
"It's only our second game without David and it's going to take some time to fill that void," said Gibbs coach Larry Murphy. "I think it's going to be by committee, but we'll get it right."
In the nightcap, St. Petersburg seemed to rely on its athletic advantage over Jefferson to glide to a 69-58 victory.
"We were all confident, we weren't worried about this game," said sought-after guard Darius Banks, who led the Green Devils with 18 points, 10 for 15 from the charity stripe. "We were on to the next; this was a practice for us."
Concerned or not, the Dragons hovered within single digits of St. Petersburg (11-5) thanks to Julius Thomas (14 points) and Maliq Lawrence (12 points), but quick little runs triggered by Banks, Serrel Smith (13 points) or Travis Bianco (17 points) quickly pushed pesky Jefferson (11-10) just out of reach.
"This was our third game in a matter of days," said Green Devils coach Chris Blackwell. "We were dealing with some fatigue, and we were looking to get through this injury-free so we could get to our main focus — our district games."
The opener saw Cape Coral Mariner edge Chamberlain 57-54 in double overtime.