LAKELAND — After three quarters of Lakewood’s Class 5A state semifinal against Fort Lauderdale Dillard on Thursday night, the Spartans trailed by seven. But during a two-minute span to start the fourth quarter, Lakewood saw the game — and its season — come to an abrupt halt.
The Panthers scored eight straight points, six on uncontested layups, to take a commanding lead and come away with a 57-41 victory at the Lakeland Center.
The loss snaps a six-game win streak for the Spartans (18-11).
“We played with a chip on our shoulders,” Lakewood coach Necole Tunsil said. “Nobody gave us a chance. We played well for three quarters. We stuck with them and gave them some things they didn’t expect. At the end we kind of ran out of gas.”
Lakewood spent the night playing from behind. That’s because Dillard (25-4) scored the first eight points and never trailed. In the first quarter, the Panthers hit six 3-pointers and 10 for the game. Shatorria Baker made 5-of-7 3-point shots and Amber Hanna made 3-of-6 to pace the Panthers.
Tunsil said she spent all week studying Dillard film. She expected a fullcourt press and tough inside play, but she was surprised the Panthers hit so many 3-pointers.
“We didn’t expect them to shoot as well as they did from 3-point range,” Tunsil said. “We’ve seen several videos of them and they struggled from the outside. We figured we could pack it in and force them to shoot from the outside. Maybe that was a bad coaching move on my part.”
Despite the sharp shooting, Lakewood managed to hang with the Panthers, who have won consecutive state titles. The second-quarter lead ballooned to 11 points, but the inside play of Shineice Beamon and Kasey Drayton kept Lakewood within striking range.
The Spartans trailed 29-21 at halftime and showed some intensity in the third quarter.
Trailing by nine midway through the third, Lakewood went on a mini run and got baskets from Beamon and Jacquette Green, and two late free throws from Beamon to make it 39-32 through three quarters.
Then the bottom dropped out.
Dillard started forcing turnovers to start the fourth and before Tunsil could call her first timeout, the lead was back to double digits. Lakewood had six turnovers in the fourth quarter and 17 for the game.
“We had mistakes because everyone was looking at the clock and knowing that time was running out,” Beamon said. “We got a little scared and that led to some mistakes.”
Tunsil said she also had to change her defense in order to get back in the game.
“We had to come out of our zone and play man,” Tunsil said. “We had to try to force some things. We started in zone and they hit some jumpers and all of the sudden we’re down 12 or 14. We had to come out of that zone.”
Lakewood never recovered and could only watch as Dillard continued to make layups.
Baker and Briana Green led Dillard with 17 points each. Ja’Coreyah Clayton added 10. Lakewood was led by Drayton and Green, who each scored 11. Beamon added eight.
As reality hit in the final minute, Lakewood players were fighting back tears.
“We had to play our A game and we brought our B-plus game,” Tunsil said.