HUDSON — As Hudson's long-range bombs and short-range bank shots kept falling early in Thursday's Class 4A, District 8 contest against Springstead, the Eagles got discombobulated, frustrated, even a little mouthy.
But never alarmed. Then again, 18-0 teams don't panic easily.
Collecting themselves defensively, the Eagles (now 19-0) began forcing myriad backcourt turnovers and ended the first half with 19 unanswered points to virtually seal a 71-54 triumph, locking up the top seed in the district tournament.
Springstead seeks victory No. 20 tonight at home against Zephyrhills.
"I think the key to the game was our defense," Eagles coach Pat Kelly said. "Hudson came out strong, spirited, played very well at the beginning … and we then started taking things away from them and playing the kind of defense we can play, and that was the key."
Initially, the Eagles allowed Cobras junior Chris Russo to get open for a pair of first-quarter 3-pointers, and failed to neutralize senior guard Jarrod Branco, who scored eight of his 23 points in the first eight minutes.
Branco's final field goal of the period, a deliberate bank shot, gave Hudson (12-7) a 20-12 lead. By that point, Russo had 10 points and the Eagles already had collected one of their three technical fouls.
Russo would score five the rest of the game. Tightening up on the perimeter, the Eagles began creating baskets off Hudson cough-ups with superior speed and athleticism. Senior Isaiah Mason's putback in transition, after classmate Dante Valentine stole the ball from Branco near midcourt, gave Springstead a 26-24 lead it wouldn't relinquish.
Mason had eight points during the 19-0 spurt — capped by a putback dunk — that gave the Eagles a 37-24 halftime advantage. He finished with a game-high 29.
"It's always the same thing when you lose to them — turnovers," said Cobras coach Jason Vetter, whose club entered on a six-game win streak. "We try to tell the guys, 'Don't let one mistake become five,' and that stretch in the second quarter we did."