ST. PETERSBURG — Boca Ciega and Lakewood entered Friday’s game searching for answers to their recent woes.
The Pirates have been plagued by slow starts. The Spartans have had trouble holding onto leads.
So a pattern was set. True to form, Lakewood jumped out to a double-digit lead. Then as if on cue, the Spartans watched it dwindle away.
But after blowing significant leads in three losses the past two weeks, Lakewood found the wherewithal to rally and hold on in a 69-67 victory.
“All week our focus has been on finishing games,” Spartans coach Anthony Lawrence Sr. said. “We did a real good job of finishing this one. This is what we needed. I’d rather be in a game like this where it’s close and you have to pull it out than win big.”
Relying on its transition game, Lakewood (15-8) went ahead 18-7 in the first quarter. Boca Ciega (16-5) clamped down after that and cut the deficit to 36-32 at the half.
In the second half, the Pirates continued to stay hot and led 53-50 at the end of the third quarter. The teams continued to trade baskets — and the lead — through most of the fourth quarter.
In the final two minutes, Boca Ciega’s Dallas Moore hit a layup, drew a foul and hit the free throw to complete the three-point play to give the Pirates a 62-60 lead.
It was the last time the Pirates would have the lead.
Anthony Lawrence Jr. answered with a 3-pointer that ignited the Spartans, who scored eight straight points to go ahead 68-62 with 20 seconds remaining.
Moore tried to keep Boca Ciega in the game with a short jumper and a 3-pointer to cut it to 68-67, but it was not enough.
Moore finished with a game-high 27 points. Teammate DJ White added 22. Jared Gregory led Lakewood with 19 points.
“It’s the same thing we’ve been struggling with,” said Pirates coach Randy Shuman, whose team has lost four of the past five. “We start slow, win the second and third quarter, and can’t make a stop when we need to in the fourth quarter. We just had too many turnovers and were too reckless with the ball.”