ST. PETERSBURG — After winning each of its first four games by more than 32 points, Berkeley Prep got what it coveted since the season began: a test.
On Tuesday, the Buccaneers traveled to play Lakewood, a team that boasts three players who either signed with or will commit to Division I schools.
Berkeley Prep had shots contested, battled for tough rebounds and withstood withering pressure, all things that came easily as it rolled to a 4-0 start.
The Buccaneers were able to stay undefeated by holding off a late rally to beat the Spartans 62-55.
“We needed one of these kinds of games,” Berkeley coach Bobby Reinhart said. “We needed something where we’d be challenged and have to execute more. I knew I was going to get that because Lakewood is a great program.
“Fortunately, we were able to separate ourselves at the end. But we needed every bit from our guys to win.”
Early on, the game was even as the teams traded baskets. In the second quarter, the Buccaneers were able to go on enough of a run to take 28-22 lead at the half.
In the third quarter, Berkeley Prep put the clamps on Lakewood’s Anthony Lawrence Jr., who was held scoreless in the quarter after finishing with 15 in the first half. That helped the Buccaneers increase their lead to 42-31 by the start of the fourth.
In the final five minutes, the Spartans’ Jacobi Boykins and Lawrence started knocking down shots and the defense dialed up the pressure. That combination put a dent in the deficit as Lakewood cut it to 54-50.
But Berkeley Prep’s Justin Gray, a Texas Tech commit, was able to beat the press, hit a layup as he was fouled and connect on a free throw to complete a three-point play that put the Buccaneers ahead 57-50.
The Spartans (3-2) could not get any closer.
Gray had 18 points and Craig Bowman added 17 to lead Berkeley Prep. The game was particularly meaningful to Bowman, who lives in St. Petersburg and is zoned for Lakewood.
“I’m friends with just about everyone on the team,” Bowman said. “It’s big for me because I can play and guard guys who are Division I.”
Lakewood has dropped three straight and is struggling to develop cohesiveness on offense while it waits for the return of point guard Joc Ellison, who still is playing football.
Boykins had 22 and Lawrence 21 for the Spartans.