TAMPA — King's formula to victory, according to Lions coach Sam Lanier, comes down to one number.
Every time the Lions have held a team to under 50 points, they have won.
And the way King plays defense is sometimes ugly — and it's no doubt physical. Sometimes the game is full of players diving to the floor for loose balls. Sometimes plays in the paint end in a tangle of arms and legs. And sometimes it leaves the opposing fans in the stands complaining to the officials for more fouls calls.
And in Thursday night's Class 5A region quarterfinal against Land O'Lakes, King's 13-point first quarter lead was disappearing thanks to Gators guard Sean Cooper, who had taken over the game with 15 points midway through the third quarter. Lanier turned to one of his defensive stalwarts, junior Rethell Oliver, and gave him direct orders.
"Up and down," Oliver said.
It was Oliver's shadowing of Cooper, who managed just one shot down the stretch, that helped shut down the Gators (11-17) offense, allowing the Lions (21-6) to scrap out a 51-44 win.
"That was big," Lanier said.
It was their 19th consecutive victory and the first region tournament victory in school history. It also tied the school's season record for wins.
King's leading scorer, Toarlyn Fitzpatrick, scored just 10 points, but added 11 rebounds and four blocks. Senior forward Andrew Donaldson picked up the slack in the post, scoring eight of his 11 points in the first quarter. Senior Adrian Federick fought early foul trouble to score 11.
"There are a lot of guys who can pick us up," Fitzpatrick said. "That's what you need at this point in the year."