CLEARWATER — In Tuesday’s Bright House Networks Tournament championship game, Michael Frazier constantly battled dogged defenders intent on denying him an open look at the basket.
It took guts, guile, maybe even a screen or two from a teammate, before he could get the ball in his hands.
Once Frazier did, he was deadly.
The 3-pointer became Plant’s equalizer against Walton, Ga. Frazier provided most of them. He made jumpers from both sides of the court, off the dribble and from behind screens, in heavy congestion and far from the madding crowd. One of his 3-pointers was a what-the-heck heave from about 25 feet, but it still was a classic Frazier jumper, arms extended above the head, elbow on the shooting arm (the right) slightly askew, eyes following the ball.
Try to keep him from getting open?
That was a long shot indeed.
Frazier, the tournament MVP, finished with 45 points as he helped the Panthers win 71-69.
“I can’t explain it,” Frazier said. “I was just feeling it. My teammates found me, I got great looks and I was able to knock them down. I knew I was going to have to do whatever it took to beat a team like this.”
Walton, ranked as high as fourth in its state classification this season, came into the title game as the favorite. But it was Frazier who kept hitting with long-range punches.
In the first quarter, Frazier confirmed his status as the bay area’s premier jump shooter by firing at will from the perimeter. He started off by swishing a 3-pointer. On Plant’s next trip down the court, Frazier stepped behind the arc to nail another one. His first five field goals came on 3-pointers.
The Panthers needed those points to keep pace with Walton, which was efficient around the basket and led through each of the first three quarters.
Trailing 58-47 to start the fourth, Plant rallied as Frazier was able to drive and score on transition layups. He also drew fouls. From the line Frazier was 13-of-13, including seven in the fourth quarter.
Other contributors in the comeback included Chris Faulk and Sam Powers, who each made crucial 3-pointers.
The turning point, however, came on a pass, not a point. With the score tied at 59, Frazier found Kieffer Jordan underneath for a layup to give the Panthers their first lead since the early in the first quarter.
Walton twice had a chance to win in the final 18 seconds.
“That was a great team we beat,” Frazier said. “It’s the biggest win we’ve ever had, and the best we’ve played as a unit all year.”
Frazier finished with a combined 110 points in three tournament games. In Monday’s semifinal win over host Clearwater, he scored 40.
“Our goal is to get the ball into our scorer’s hands, and that is Frazier,” Panthers coach Mike Phillips said. “Michael did the rest. It was a wild night for him.”
In the consolation game, Sickles held on to beat the Tornadoes 51-50.