TAMPA — Tampa Catholic coach Don Dziagwa challenged his group in practice all this week and the result on Thursday night was a 85-33 rout of Fort Myers Bishop Verot in a Class 5A region quarterfinal.
Senior forward Kevin Knox came out attacking as the Crusaders (22-5) led 32-3 after one quarter. Knox had 14 in the opening quarter and 24 at the half.
With a running clock implemented to open the third quarter, Knox tacked on six more points to reach 30 before exiting with the first unit.
"We didn't think it was going to be that easy," Dziagwa said. "But when it ends up being that easy, what you really want to do is try to stay focused and do the things that we need to do. We really try to focus on things that we practice every day."
Junior guard Tim Carter scored 10 points while freshman forward Alijah Harrison added six and junior guards Messiah Turner, Tai Strickland and Darren Robinson each had four points for Tampa Catholic's first unit.
Two younger brothers, Kobe Knox and Terrell Strickland, each earned their first varsity playing time. Knox scored nine and earned a ton of cheers from the home crowd. Strickland hit 1-of-2 free throws to get on the board in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter and also heard the love from his fans.
Dziagwa called it a good experience for his younger players to get on the court.
The victory places the Crusaders in the region semifinals, which will be played at Naples Community School (23-5) on Tuesday night.
For Tampa Catholic, it's not about who they play, it's how they play. That's a motto Dziagwa has his players live by.
He says he believes the tough slate his team has dealt with has helped. The Crusaders have only three losses to Florida teams — Montverde, West Oaks and Windermere Prep. Only Windermere Prep is Florida High School Athletic Association eligible, and Tampa Catholic lost 59-58 in its home season opener to them.
Last year, Dziagwa's group fought all the way to the state semifinals before losing to eventual champion Jacksonville Bolles.