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ST. PETERSBURG — Most who had attended the Keswick Suncoast Classic likely knew the final was going to be a tough game. It wasn’t decided until the last shot.
It was only after a final drive to the basket Wednesday that St. John Neumann could celebrate its narrow victory over Clearwater Central Catholic, 61-60.
The Celtics opened the game red hot, controlling the inside on both ends on the way to a 16-7 lead after one period.
In the second, Celtics center Josh Hardy blocked two consecutive shots, and Nick Corso scored a fastbreak layup to give St. John Neumann a 15-point lead, its biggest of the night. Consecutive baskets by Devante Mitchem narrowed the gap for CCC, which trailed at halftime 29-19.
The game tightened in the third as Daniel Higinbotham scored seven consecutive points for the Marauders. A layup by senior Spencer Elmore completed the turnaround, and CCC led 35-34. By the time the quarter was over, the Marauders were up 44-39.
The Marauders held their lead until Frank Bennett sank a 3-point shot to put the Celtics back up by one. A Corso layup extended the advantage to three, and completed a 7-0 Celtics run.
Bennett, the tournament MVP, would sink two more of his six 3s, the last of which gave St. John Neumann a 57-51 lead. A timely first basket by Ralph Coleman pushed the Celtics’ advantage to 61-54 with less than a minute remaining.
But the Marauders intensified their pressure and were within two after quick layups by Mitchem. They then took possession when the Celtics’ Erik Gray couldn’t inbound the ball in time. Mitchem was fouled and sank the one of two foul shots.
The Marauders had one last chance after St. John Neumann missed its foul shot attempt. Mitchem drove to the basket, collected the rebound, but missed on a final try under the rim as time expired.
Celtics coach John Wholihan had nothing but praise for CCC.
“We just played a real tough team,” he said. “I told our guys this is what basketball is about.”