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LAKELAND — It may arrive in the first few minutes or near the end of the first half. Or maybe late in the game. But somewhere between the tip and the final buzzer, when you meet Pompano Beach Blanche Ely, its fullcourt pressure elevates and you disintegrate.
Ask St. Petersburg.
The Green Devils, who were making their first state final four appearance in 40 years, scored in the single digits in each quarter of Friday’s Class 7A state semifinal at the Lakeland Center. St. Petersburg (23-9) also committed 26 turnovers, 16 in the first half.
Add up the numbers and you get the fullcourt, flat-out, defensive assault that ignited a 62-29 semifinal victory over the Green Devils.
“From top to bottom they were as good a team as we’ve seen this year,” St. Petersburg coach Chris Blackwell said. “They stayed into what they wanted to do. They’re long and athletic. They pressured us and they thrive in transition. We got rattled a little and couldn’t get in synch.”
The pressure came nearly three minutes into the game with the Tigers ahead 8-6. They came with a sea of kelly green and orange and elbows and feet and hands, all hawking toward the ball and trapping all over the court. The Green Devils could not handle it. Early in the second quarter, St. Petersburg fell behind 23-8 after managing four points in a five-minute span, on a layup by David Jones and pair of free throws by Terrell Burney.
Turnovers in the backcourt led to dunks and 3s for Blanche Ely. The Tigers’ style, their game.
“We did a good job defensively,” Blanche Ely coach Melvin Randall said. “I’d put it as one of our top two defensive performances of the season.”
The Green Devils tried to prepare for Blanche Ely’s pressure by watching Tigers game tape of the past few days. But even with practice, St. Petersburg was not prepared for this.
The Tigers (29-2) continually disrupted the Green Devils’ offense while creating easy offense. Ely made 22 more field goals than St. Petersburg, thanks to a huge advantage in turnover margin (plus-15).
It all led to the Green Devils seemingly chasing the tail of the Tigers.
“They were fast, but we didn’t realize how big they were, too,” said Jones, who led St. Petersburg with 12 points. “We thought we could take advantage of things after watching them on tape. We just couldn’t do it.”
At the start of the fourth quarter, Ely was ahead by 35 and a running clock was used the remainder of the game.
Clide Geffrard scored a game-high 22 for the Tigers and teammate Benji Bell had 11 points and five steals.
The loss ends a special season for the Green Devils, who survived several close contests to reach the final four.
“This was an unbelievable, great season,” Blackwell said. “I told the players afterward not to let what happened in this game take away from the accomplishment. We just need to take it all.
“This is a young team. We’ll be back.”