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ST. PETERSBURG — Two nights ago, several Palm Harbor University players sat in the stands with Hurricanes coach Mike Walters after their semifinal win of the Northside Christian Mustang Invitational and witnessed Mustangs guard Jeffrey Golden light up Countryside for a career-high 33 points.
In the championship game Wednesday, the Hurricanes made it a mission to do whatever it took to contain Golden.
The game plan worked as senior Danny Schwartz shadowed Golden throughout the game, holding the junior guard to 12 points as the Hurricanes beat the Mustangs 65-54 to win their first tournament of any kind in more than five years. Steve McKellar had a team-high 17 points to pace the Hurricanes (8-5) and earn tournament Most Valuable Player, while Mike Tavoularis added 16.
“We saw what (Golden) did against Countryside and we made that our game plan,” McKellar said. “Danny did a great job on staying with him and preventing him from touching the ball.
“It was great defense, and it was a big part in us winning the game.”
McKellar scored all his points in the first half as the Hurricanes turned a 9-5 deficit in the first quarter into a 16-12 lead at the end of the period, thanks to steals and easy conversions off their stifling man-to-man defense.
The Hurricanes took advantage of Mustangs point guard Joe Chapman’s absence in the second quarter with a full-court pressure defense, going on a 10-2 run in the final three minutes of the first half for a 34-22 halftime lead.
“My assistant coaches noticed he was out of the game and we normally don’t play a full-court press, but we went right to it when he didn’t come back in,” Walters said. “Besides that, I just think it’s the first time this season we’ve played a complete game on both sides of the ball. We hustled, we had a solid effort on defense and the boards, and we played together throughout the game.
“It’s a cliche, but it’s true in our case that when you play hard, good things will happen.”
After halftime, the closest the Mustangs (7-4) would get was 11 points and the largest deficit the Hurricanes created was 15 points several times.
“They definitely focused on me from the start so we tried to go inside a little more,” Golden said. “I think we definitely made a statement in this tournament in how far we’ve come as a program. Heck, last year we were playing at 11 a.m. in the seventh-place game, so we’ve made huge strides as a team.”
Mustangs center Kyle Keck finished with a game-high 18 points.