ST. PETERSBURG — Lakewood was handling the ball haphazardly on offense, was getting beat to the basket on defense, and was looking up at a strange sight on the scoreboard: a halftime deficit.
In a matchup up two of the premier girls basketball teams in Class 5A, District 12, Bradenton Southeast was getting the better result. The Seminoles (10-1) went on a 14-4 run to close out the second quarter and went into the half with a 26-21 lead.
Spartans coach Necole Tunsil was not boiling inside. She did not go into the locker room to dress down her players. In fact, she barely made an appearance.
Inspired by their coach’s trust in them, Lakewood’s veterans turned around the game, dominating Southeast in the third quarter to secure a 52-47 victory and improve to 11-1.
“Sometimes players respond to peer pressure more than the coach,” Tunsil said. “We were prepared for the game, and the players knew what to do. Sometimes deficits build character. It was an unfamiliar feeling to them, but they were all able to pull together.”
No two players took more heed than Alexis Ungro and Tianah Alvarado. Each scored 18, most coming in the second half. But this comeback started with defense, as the Spartans kept getting steals that turned into transition points and began rebounding with authority.
Ungro and Alvarado then got hot from long range, combining on five 3-pointers in the second half.
“Our defense really stepped up,” Tunsil said. “Our guards stopped them penetrating inside, and we got hot from outside.”
In the boys game, Lakewood went through spurts before outlasting the Seminoles 73-55.
From the start, it appeared as if the Spartans (9-1) were going to win in a rout. They led 9-0 as Anthony Lawrence Jr. was hitting from inside. But Lakewood just as quickly let Southeast back in the game and was ahead just 16-11 after the first quarter.
The game continued that way as the Spartans would surge to commanding leads before allowing the Seminoles to make brief runs to stay within striking distance.
“For some reason we get out there and play in spurts,” Spartans coach Anthony Lawrence Sr. said. “We’ve got to pick up the pace at times. That just comes with having all our guys back and understanding one another.
“We can’t get too comfortable and allow teams to stay in games. But we’ll get better at it.”
Lawrence led Lakewood with 22 points, including two 3-pointers and six free throws.