ST. PETERSBURG — Barry Brown’s statistical line in the box score was full of good numbers with 13 points to go along with six assists and four steals.
But the Gibbs guard knew the best stat was the three of four free throws he converted. None were bigger than the two he made in the final 13 seconds to seal a 55-52 victory over neighboring rival Lakewood that gave the Gladiators an early edge for the top seed in Class 5A, District 8.
“It was a relief to get both of those free throws,” Brown said. “I felt like I kind of redeemed myself.”
Despite a 7-1 record, Gibbs knew their inability to hit late free throws had to be addressed. Critical misses at the line proved costly in a one-point loss to Daytona Beach Father Lopez two weeks ago and another series of misses forced the Gladiators to need overtime against Gainesville The Rock last week.
Brown played a critical role with some misses. But he never changed his aggressive play. Friday, he continued to drive to the basket and pick up fouls in the waning moments.
This time, he came through.
“It’s something that we work on all the time,” Gibbs coach Larry Murphy said of free throws. “We probably shoot at least 100 of them in practice. It’s good to see where now starting to hit some big ones.”
The Gladiators used pressure to create turnovers and easy buckets in transition for a 16-7 lead after the first quarter. The Spartans (3-5) battled back, cutting it to 24-21 at the half thanks to a late 3-pointer by Anthony Lawrence Jr.
In the third quarter, Gibbs went ahead 40-31. But Lawrence Jr. (17 points) and Jacobi Boykins (22) continued to score inside as Lakewood chipped away at the deficit until it was reduced to a point.
With Gibbs ahead 53-52, Brown was fouled and hit his free throws. The Spartans had a chance at the end but Boykins missed a 3-pointer in the final seconds.
“We knew it would be this kind of game, it always is with Lakewood,” Murphy said. “They’re so long and athletic that it presented problems for us offensively. But we were able to go on enough runs to win.”