CLEARWATER — Plant’s Michael Frazier has transformed into one of the most prolific scorers the bay area. The Florida recruit, who is ranked the 10th-best shooting guard in the country, can turn games into a solo act.
But he has not been able to guide the Panthers to the playoffs the past two seasons. So Frazier has shed his quest for a scoring trophy in favor of a postseason title.
Plant is better for it. Still, occasionally the quests intertwine, becoming dual means to a single destination.
With a chance to make the final of the Bright House Networks Tournament, Frazier filled up the box score and people searched for frantic edits to the record books as he torched host Clearwater for 40 points Monday to help the Panthers win 78-69 in the semifinals.
Plant (9-3) will face Walton, Ga., in the championship game at 8 tonight. The Tornadoes (8-2) play Sickles in the consolation game at 6:30 p.m.
“It was a tough game against a good team,” Frazier said. “We were able to come strong and we distributed the ball well and took good shots.”
Clearwater coach Allen Carden knew Frazier could score in bunches. Carden preached to his team the importance of paying special attention to Frazier.
It did not work in the first half.
Frazier scored timely and effective baskets as the Panthers led by as many as 15 in the second quarter and went into halftime with a 43-30 lead.
“We were not focused and ready to play at the start of the game,” Carden said. “We didn’t respond to give Frazier the respect he deserves. Our whole defensive philosophy was on stopping him.
“He’s a great player. That’s the first time I’ve had someone score more than 40 points on me as a coach.”
The Tornadoes looked a little ragged at times. But they showed their resolve in the second half as they rallied to turn what could have been a lopsided game into a close contest.
Clearwater got back into the game by attacking in waves instead of one tsunami, using a balanced offense to keep the Panthers off balance. Five times in the fourth quarter the Tornadoes made it a two-point game with the ball and a chance to tie. But Clearwater never could get the momentum-changing basket.
And Frazier made sure the Tornadoes kept playing from behind by driving to the lane and drawing fouls. After starting 3-of-6 from the line, Frazier hit five of his final six free throws, all in the final four minutes, to keep Plant ahead the entire game.
“We came out prepared,” Frazier said. “We looked forward to playing Clearwater and it will be a good game against (Walton) in the final.”
Jon Hogan led Clearwater with 20 points, followed by Joey Nungester with 13.
“We showed a lot of grit in coming back, but we didn’t run our offense well enough to get that shot that would have tied the game,” Carden said. “You never know what would have happened if we make it a tie game.”