TAMPA — For the first five minutes of its highly anticipated meeting in the Tampa Hoops Classic with Jersey City (N.J.) St. Anthony, Clearwater appeared it would suffer the same fate as fellow county power Lakewood against the nation's No. 22-ranked team, according to USA Today.
Playing in front of a large, vocal crowd at Plant, St. Anthony had its way from the opening tip with the Tornadoes.
The Friars' in-your-face defense forced Clearwater into turnovers early and often. When the Tornadoes did hold onto the ball, they struggled to find open shots. They had trouble making shots. Rebounds against the Friars' beefy front line were nonexistent.
St. Anthony opened up a 14-0 lead, and it looked like the rout was on, just as it had been against Lakewood.
Clearwater, though, didn't back down from the challenge, playing St. Anthony nearly even the rest of the way in a 66-51 quarterfinal loss.
"I thought we hung in there, we just can't come out down 14-0," Clearwater coach Allen Carden said. "I thought we took a couple ill-advised shots (early). We didn't want to come out jacking up 3s. We wanted to get the ball inside to Okaro (White), and we didn't do that to start the game."
Clearwater (9-4) got on the board with 2:40 remaining in the first quarter when Cory Carden drained a 3-pointer. Another 3 by Carden and a three-point play by White (15 points), who missed part of the first quarter with a cut under his left eye, pulled the Tornadoes to within 22-12 going into the second quarter.
Clearwater went on a 9-3 run before halftime to make it 31-23.
The Tornadoes were just 3-of-14 from beyond the arc in the first half but came out shooting much more effectively after the intermission. Junior guard Joey Nungester (team-high 21 points) drained a trio of 3s in a little more than a minute, and Carden (nine points) drilled another to bring Clearwater to within nine of the lead.
Whenever the Tornadoes started to make a run, though, St. Anthony responded. Friars senior Elijah Carter had a game-high 21 points and made three baskets from long distance.
"We had to play catch-up the whole time," Carden said. "We just could never get over that eight- to 10-point hump."
"Defensively, I thought we played well enough to be able to stay in the game," Carden said. "We've just got to knock down some shots. I thought we got a little hurried, a little rushed at times, but I'm very proud of my kids."
St. Anthony advances to Wednesday's semifinal at Plant against the winner of Winter Springs and Dr. Krop.
Clearwater falls to the consolation bracket, where it will play the loser of Arlington Country Day and Brooklyn (N.Y.) Lincoln at 2:45 p.m. Wednesday at Plant High.
Lakewood (7-1) won its consolation game against Flanagan 64-53 at Tampa Prep and will play the winner between Forest Hills (N.Y.) and Baton Rouge (La.) Christian Life at noon Wednesday at Tampa Prep.