LAKELAND — The Class 5A semifinal between Clearwater and Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer was supposed to be a matchup of high-flying teams who wanted to keep running all the way to a state title.
But Wednesday's game turned into to a halfcourt scrum, a clutch-and-grab clinic in which defense ruled.
The Tornadoes' defense turned out to be the best.
Clearwater held the Panthers, a team that was averaging nearly 70 points per game, to their lowest point total of the season in a 44-43 victory.
"Everyone talks about our offense," Tornadoes coach Allen Carden said. "But no one talks about how hard we work on defense."
The guy Clearwater paid special attention to was Randy Galloway. The Dwyer guard entered Wednesday's semifinal averaging 17 points per game.
Galloway finished with 13 and was 5-of-15 from the field.
"My shots were not able to fall for some reason," Galloway said.
That had something to do with guards Cory Carden and Regan O'Rourke playing drape-cloth defense. But the big difference was Clearwater's size underneath the basket with 6-foot-8 Julien Sargent and 6-9 Okaro White. The post players combined for 18 of the Tornadoes' 33 rebounds and four of the team's seven steals.
Clearwater's defense paid off in the second half. The Tornadoes (28-3) held Dwyer to four points in the third quarter.
"We just were not able to get things to work for us," Panthers coach Fred Ross said. "Their big guys do a good job of clogging the lane."