CLEARWATER — Amid the aerial spectacle presented by the top stars in the Pinellas County Athletic Conference championship game, it was easy for Clearwater to forget that dumping the ball inside to Okaro White and Julien Sargent is as sure a way of scoring as there is in the county.
Overpowering Lakewood for easy baskets and rebounds Friday, White and Sargent helped the Tornadoes to a 70-65 victory and the conference title.
"All week, coach (Allen) Carden told us to pound the ball inside," said White, who finished with a team-high 23 points. "We did and they couldn't stop it."
In the first half, White treated overmatched defenders the way a wrecking ball treats a window pane. He bullied his way through the Spartans for prime postup position, then turned and dropped the ball in the net as casually as if he were placing a book on a shelf.
White's presence helped the Tornadoes jump out to a 43-32 lead at halftime.
"Clearwater's big guys definitely gave us some problems," Lakewood coach Dan Wright said. "They were able to come inside on us a lot."
By the fourth quarter, the Tornadoes (22-3) led by as many as 21 points. Then Lakewood mounted a furious comeback with some timely 3-pointers.
With seven seconds left, the Spartans' Shamon Cox hit the final 3-pointer of the night that cut the deficit to 67-65.
But Lakewood (21-4) would not get any closer as Clearwater made crucial free throws.
"I thought for three quarters we played as well as we could have played," Carden said. "We knew Lakewood was never going to quit. … We just made some silly mistakes at the end."