ST. PETERSBURG — Tampa Prep coach Joe Fenlon hoped his team's hot shooting and stifling defense would continue in the final of the Northeast Christmas Invitational on Saturday night. Boca Ciega coach Randy Shuman hoped his team's habit of starting slowly would end.
Only Fenlon got his wish.
The Terrapins blitzed the Pirates with 40 first-half points, including eight 3-pointers, then held on to win 71-61.
"Going into the (Friday semifinal against Wharton), we could've come out of here with two losses," Fenlon said. "This was a very strong field. So to win this is very nice. Collectively, we had guys step up.
"You never know who it's going to be from game to game."
Against Boca Ciega (14-2), it was senior guard Josh Heath. He scored a team-high 17 points before fouling out with three minutes to play. Heath was named the tournament's most valuable player.
But the real catalyst was senior guard Andy Fullerton. Fullerton drilled all four first-half 3-pointers he attempted, including three in the first quarter that gave Tampa Prep (15-0) the lead. After the first quarter, the Terrapins led 19-11, and nine of those points were from Fullerton.
The lead continued to grow in the second quarter behind two 3-pointers from Heath, one from Ephraim Lavey and another from Fullerton. By halftime, the Terrapins led 40-18 and looked in control.
"We've just been notorious this year for slow starts," Shuman said. "It got to us tonight. You can't spot them 22 points. We just dug ourselves a big hole. You're not going to come back against good teams when you do that. We have to figure it out."
Boca Ciega did not give up, however.
Five minutes into the third quarter, it trailed by 22 but slowly chipped away. It ended the quarter on an 11-0 run that cut the lead to 47-33. During that run, Dallas Moore got hot and made three jumpers, including a 15-footer at the buzzer to take momentum into the fourth quarter.
"Usually, the third quarter is our best quarter," Fenlon said. "But we let them back into the game in the third quarter."
The Pirates continued to hang around and cut the lead to 10 thanks to a Joe Lampley basket, a technical foul on Tampa Prep and a 3-pointer from Moore. Moore ended with a game-high 29 points.
The lead was cut to 61-54 midway through the fourth quarter when Moore hit a 3-pointer from almost 10 feet behind the line.
The closest the Pirates got was six points, when Moore converted two free throws after another Terrapins technical foul. But the Terrapins were able to break Boca Ciega's press and get easy layups to put the game away.
"We fought back," Shuman said. "We played hard. It's almost like the guys are thinking, 'Hey, we might lose.' And then they start to play. Well, sometimes it's too late to do that."
Fullerton said he figured the game would play into his 3-point shooting strength.
"It was going to be a fast-paced game, and when it's like that, I can get some (3-point) looks," Fullerton said. "Josh (Heath) is good at finding me. I just had to knock them down."
Aside from Heath, Lavey and Bernhard Woodside were named to the all-tournament team. Boca Ciega's Michael Clark and Moore also were all-tournament selections. Clark had 17 points for the Pirates.
Double-digit scorers for Tampa Prep were Juwan Durham, who had 13 points, and Fullerton and Lavey, who had 12.
Rodney Page can be reached at email@example.com.