ST. PETERSBURG — With the clock winding down in regulation, St. Petersburg's Terrell Burney heaved a shot from near mid-court. The ball bounced off the rim and backboard before rattling in for a buzzer-beating, tying shot against neighboring rival Lakewood.
This was a familiar scene for the Spartans. Last year, they squandered a 25-point lead in a loss to the Green Devils.
Lakewood would not let it happen again. Jacobi Boykins hit a 3-pointer and Michael Clark made clutch free throws down the stretch as the Spartans pulled out an 86-81 victory.
"I looked my guys in the eyes after (St. Petersburg) hit that shot," Lakewood coach Anthony Lawrence Sr. said. "We were fine. The guys weren't dejected or down. We stayed focused."
Lawrence Sr. credits the Spartans' ability to come back to numerous games against ranked teams. Lakewood entered Tuesday's just 10-9 but was coming off its best game of the season, a 56-51 win over Oldsmar Christian.
"We're starting to play with a lot of confidence," Lawrence Sr. said. "…Right now, we're dangerous."
Early on, the Green Devils had all the momentum. They had a 13-3 lead four minutes into the first quarter. The Spartans started chipping away, with Anthony Lawrence Jr. scoring 11 points in the first half.
Two minutes into the third, Lakewood tied at 36. From there, the lead changed multiple times.
In the fourth quarter, the Spartans seemed to have it wrapped up as they milked the clock. Joc Ellison was fouled with 3.2 seconds left and Lakewood ahead 71-69. Ellison made the first. The second bounced off the rim, setting up Burney's tying shot.
"Terrell hit a big one against us last year, too," said Lawrence Jr., who finished with 24 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. "Then he comes back and does it again. But we kept it together and pulled it out. We're playing at our highest point right now."
Boykins had a team-high 25 points, including four 3s. Clark added 10, seven off free throws.
The Green Devils were led by Darius Banks (23 points, nine rebounds, three steals, two assists), Dayon Griffin (19 points) and Burney (18 points).