TAMPA — For 12 minutes, it looked as if Clearwater's height advantage would pay dividends against Jefferson.
The Dragons, a quick, free-wheeling team, avoided pounding the ball into its post players on the low block or driving hard to the basket. Instead, Jefferson attempted jump shots that bounced off the rim for a seven-point deficit early in the second quarter.
Then the Dragons, who have five sophomores and three freshmen on the roster, received the revelation that must have had their fans thinking, "It's about time." Suddenly, their guards were slashing and their inside players were posting. And the Tornadoes' lead was shrinking.
In less than four minutes Tuesday, Clearwater was behind for good and on its way to a 59-49 loss. After allowing just two inside points midway through the second quarter, the Tornadoes gave up 12 before the half.
"I thought we scouted Jefferson well and knew what they were capable of," Clearwater coach Tom Shaneyfelt said. "But they were definitely strong inside."
Early on, though, the Tornadoes were in control 15-8.
Soon after, the Dragons started chipping away at the lead, going on a 17-2 run to pull ahead 25-17.
The onslaught came as Jefferson (26-1) turned to its inside game, which was supposed to be at a disadvantage dealing with Clearwater's Rachel Brown (6-foot-6) and Artajah Collins (6-3) underneath the basket.
The height disparity did not deter the Dragons, who started hitting layups and knocking down short jumpers.
Down 27-20 at the half, Clearwater (26-3) battled back and tied the score at 36 on a 3-pointer by Veronica Ryan.
But Jefferson scored the final five points of the third quarter to go ahead for good.
"We weren't able to get a basket for a while in the first half, and Jefferson knocked down their shots, which hurt," Shaneyfelt said. "We got behind early and that took us out of some things."
Ryan scored 21 and J'Beria Davis 15 to lead the Tornadoes.