ST. PETERSBURG — Over the course of a two-hour slugfest, Anthony Lawrence Jr. had done everything he could for Lakewood. He hit layups, turnaround jumpers and 3-pointers. He rebounded and defended.
About the only thing he couldn’t do, at least early in Friday’s Class 5A, District 10 championship game against rival Gibbs, was hit free throws. Midway through the fourth quarter, he was 2-for-8 from the line.
But he got hot when it counted, hitting his final seven to help the visiting Spartans rally from a double-digit deficit and win 66-62 in overtime.
It was redemption for Lakewood (16-11), which lost its previous two meetings against the Gladiators (17-8), including a blown 16-point lead last month.
“I was struggling knocking down some of those free throws,” Lawrence said. “I just had to block out the crowd and concentrate in order to start making them. This was big to come back like this against our neighboring rival.”
Despite a pregame speech by former Lakewood football star Louis Murphy (Florida/New York Giants), the Spartans fell behind 19-11 after the first quarter and 28-20 at the half.
In the third quarter, Gibbs led by as much as 10. There could have been an overwhelming sense of deja vu for Lakewood, which had lost three straight to its rival dating to last year.
But the Spartans were confident, as the previous two games this season were decided by a combined seven points, and they had won overtime games against St. Petersburg and Bradenton IMG in the past three weeks.
“It’s Lakewood-Gibbs, it’s always going to be close,” Spartans coach Anthony Lawrence Sr. said. “It’s almost to the point where you don’t want to be ahead at the half because you know the other team is going to come back. I just had a feeling this game was going into overtime. That’s something we’ve seen plenty of times this season, so we were fine.”
In the final 11 seconds of regulation, Lakewood led 58-56 when Gibbs guard Daniel Davis was fouled and hit both free throws. The Spartans couldn’t get a shot to fall, forcing overtime.
Lakewood took over there, outscoring the Gladiators 8-4 the rest of the way.
Lawrence led all scorers with 29 points. Barry Brown had a team-high 25 for Gibbs.