ST. PETERSBURG — Lakewood's path was sloppy on Thursday. It was aesthetically unpleasing at times.
But it also ended with a win.
After enjoying dominance of Boca Ciega in the first half, Lakewood had to withstand a spirited second half by its fiercest rival before pulling out an 80-68 victory.
"Both teams are full of youth," Spartans coach Dan Wright said. "I think Boca Ciega's youth contributed to their bad start. And I think our youth showed in the second half in thinking the game was over."
Relying on pressure defense, Lakewood held the Pirates to single digits in the first quarters. Down 37-15 at the half, Boca Ciega's hopes of winning bobbed between negligible and nonexistent.
Pushed to the edge, the Pirates bounced back. Their comeback manifested itself in a familiar form, with Kenny Smith racing across the court through a screen and the net swallowing his 3-point shot.
Smith hit two key 3-pointers in the third quarter to help revitalize his team. Boca Ciega scored 31 in the third quarter and cut the deficit to 53-46 going into the fourth.
Smith finished with a team-high 25 points, including 19 in the second half.
"Kenny Smith was by far the best basketball player on the floor tonight," Wright said.
The Pirates (12-8) came within four but could never get any closer. In the end, the Spartans (12-4) showed enough resolve with Bernard Reedy hitting a crucial 3-pointer and Dominic Lane (team-high 26 points) making four clutch free throws.
For Boca Ciega, the game was typical of its roller-coaster season.
"I knew we'd have some peaks and valleys," Pirates coach Randy Shuman said. "I just didn't know the peaks would be that high and the valleys would be that low."