LAKELAND — Lakewood coach Anthony Lawrence Sr. likes his basketball fast and furious, entertaining and effective. That’s the style that helped the Spartans reach Saturday’s Class 5A state final.
The Spartans’ opponent, Plantation American Heritage, prefers a similar pace. The Patriots play fast, hard and with a purpose because it is easier to put the ball in the basket if the defense is not there yet.
The Spartans watched American Heritage runs its rapid-rewards offense with exhaustion and envy in a 98-70 loss that set the record for most points scored by a team in a state championship game.
After all, no one wants to defend against a team that makes every possession a 94-foot sprint. The Patriots played with such speed that it was hard for anyone to keep up, including the officials, one of whom had to leave after nearly passing out.
“It was tough out there,” Lakewood guard Anthony Lawrence Jr. said. “We didn’t realize how quick they were at getting the ball up the court. Every time we scored, they would push the ball up and pass it over our heads.”
The other thing the Spartans (21-12) couldn’t account for was how effective American Heritage (28-7) would be at putting the ball in the basket, particularly from long range.
The 3-point shots came from everywhere. From the corner. From the top of the arc. No matter the situation or score, the Patriots kept firing away — and making them.
In the first quarter, American Heritage made 4-of-6 from the perimeter. The hot shooting continued as the Patriots finished the first half shooting 75.9 percent (22-of-29), including 61 percent from 3-point range (8-of-13).
The two biggest shots came in the final minute of the second quarter as Keyshawn Evans, the tournament MVP, hit consecutive 3s to give American Heritage a 54-31 halftime lead.
“It felt good because I didn’t have a great game in the semifinals,” said Evans, who finished with a team-high 25 points. “I felt good in warmups and thought I might have a breakout game.”
The Patriots deliberately pushed the pace because it has been ingrained in them.
“My philosophy is go, go, go,” American Heritage coach Charles Stephenson said. “If I was a Nascar driver, I’d blow my engine. I never want to let up for a minute.”
The Patriots were a senior-laden team trying to win their first state title after losing in the state semifinals to Lake Wales in 2012 and in the championship game to Jesuit last year.
So there was no letting up in the second half, despite holding a 20-point lead. About the only suspense left was whether American Heritage would eclipse the scoring record and if a running clock would be used if the lead grew to 35 points.
The Spartans prevented the running clock. But they couldn’t keep the Patriots from breaking the scoring record. The previous mark was 94 points, set by Pensacola Catholic in 1971 and Florida Air Academy in ’98.
“Aside from Montverde, that was probably the best team we’ve seen all year,” Lawrence Sr. said of American Heritage. “They did such a good job in transition, and they the shot the ball extremely well, probably the best half of shooting I’ve seen.”
Jacobi Boykins, named Lakewood’s MVP for the tournament, finished with 28 points and 13 rebounds. Lawrence Jr. had 18 points and Joc Ellison 12 for the Spartans.
“It was exciting to be here,” Boykins said. “A lot of other teams are at home, but we made it. We just fell short.”
Bob Putnam can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @BobbyHomeTeam.