ST. PETERSBURG — In a game highlighted by exemplary defense, an extraordinary run made all the difference.
After Lakewood's Mataeo Brinson muscled in a determined layup with 5:32 left in the second quarter Tuesday night, drawing the Spartans within two points, Cape Coral Mariner went to work. Holding Lakewood to just five shots, all misses, the Tritons stretched their lead to 11 at halftime and never allowed the hosts closer than nine the rest of the way.
Taking home a 54-44 victory in the Class 6A region semifinals, Mariner (21-7) faces Sebring for a berth in the final four. The Spartans wrap up their campaign with a 20-8 record.
The squads shot a combined 38 percent from the floor as aggressive man-to-man defense made scoring difficult and comebacks virtually impossible. Lakewood's longest run of scoring was just six points before being silenced for the remainder of the first half.
"We turned the ball over way too much (19 on the evening), but we played great defense and that was the key," said Tritons coach Keeth Jones. "(Lakewood) ran its offense a little better in the second half and we did really well to keep up."
"We missed a lot of early layups, and things like that kind of put us behind the eight-ball," said Lakewood coach Anthony Lawrence. "We tried to get (senior Tyrese) Hurst going early — he's one of our big scorers — but it was an off night for him (finishing with eight points).
"We gave up 54 points, that's not bad. We just weren't hitting on all cylinders (Tuesday)."
After climbing to a double-digit lead, Amari Haynes was superb at preserving it. The 6-foot-8 senior ruled the defensive glass, pulling down 14 of his 19 rebounds in the final 16 minutes to limit Lakewood possessions. He added 16 points on 8-of-11 shooting to keep the Spartans at arm's length.
"We didn't give them a lot of second shots," Jones said. "They took a lot of outside shots and we did well controlling long rebounds."
Sophomore point guard Jalen White shook off a tough start to score 14 of his 16 points in the second half for Lakewood behind quality drives to the hoop, but couldn't get much consistent help.
Adrian White finished with 10 points for the Spartans.
"This is a team that scored 23 points in its first preseason game," said Lawrence. "We had a lot of kids that transferred in and we had to implement into our system,. plus we lost starting point guard Corey Davis early in the season. For us to have 20 wins and make the regional semifinals, I think it's a pretty good season for this team.
"We've got a lot of our guys coming back next year, and we've got some good young guys in our program. Our future looks really bright and I'm proud of these guys. We're not holding our heads down; I'm good."