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State boys basketball: Lennard falters in first semifinal

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Fri. February 28, 2014 | Matt Baker | Email

State boys basketball: Lennard falters in first semifinal

LAKELAND — The running clock was winding down, and Lake Minneola was still finding ways to slice to the basket in Friday’s Class 6A state semifinal.

After the Hawks drained another tough layup in their rout at the Lakeland Center, Lennard coach Danny Gaddis could only rub his head, shove his hands in his pockets and look away.

“They are as good as advertised,” Gaddis said.

Lake Minneola’s talent combined with Lennard’s ugliest game of the year to end the best season in Longhorn history with a 74-42 defeat.

Lennard (25-5) seemed overmatched from the beginning. After the first quarter, the Longhorns had 12 turnovers, eight points, seven field-goal attempts and a 16-point deficit. They never recovered.

“They just came out to play from the jump,” Gaddis said of Lake Minneola, which will play Miami Norland on Saturday for the state championship.

Lennard’s problems centered on its 25 turnovers — only one better than its season worst.

The Hawks (28-3) stuffed the lane to keep the Longhorns from setting up good looks. Lake Minneola capitalized with 18 steals and scored 31 points off of turnovers to get the running clock rolling midway through the third quarter.

When Lennard could hold onto the ball, it still ran into trouble. Four starters, including leading scorers Caelen Watts and Gary Hector, finished with at least three fouls. Hector’s early foul trouble limited him to 10 points and six rebounds.

The Longhorns shot 41 percent from the field and missed six of their eight 3-pointers. Diontae Johnson (11 points) joined Hector as the only Lennard players in double figures, leading to the team’s lowest scoring output of the year.

“Everything we were shooting was like a lid on top of the rim,” said Watts, who finished 2-of-9 shooting.

And nearly everything the Hawks did ended in buckets. Twin guards Anthony and Avery Brown finished a combined 21-of-30 shooting with 46 points, outscoring Lennard by themselves.

Even some of the Longhorns’ lucky breaks ended in misfortune. Hector grabbed a rebound midway through the second quarter after a Lake Minneola miss — a rare occurrence for a team that shot 60.4 percent from the field.

But Hector bobbled the ball and had to flip it back inbounds. The ball flew to a Hawk, and the possession ended in another Anthony Brown layup.

“Those who have seen us play, that’s not our typical game,” Gaddis said. “We just happened to have our worst game in life in the state (semifinal) game.”

The loss dampened a breakout season for Lennard. The Longhorns had only one previous playoff appearance before earning the program’s first three postseason victories on their march to Lakeland.

After the final buzzer sounded, Lennard’s seniors weren’t yet ready to think about the legacy they’re leaving behind.

“It’s too soon,” Hector said.

The Longhorns’ fans disagreed.

About 50 students and parents in black hoodies or bright orange L-block T-shirts waited for the team outside the arena. When the Longhorns finally stepped outside, most of them covered their stony faces with white towels.

The L-block erupted in cheers.

Matt Baker can be reached at mbaker@tampabay.com or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.

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