It did not take the St. Petersburg Junior College men's basketball team long to bury any fear of a collapse in the clutch. The Trojans clinched the Suncoast Conference title Saturday by winning 105-86 at South Florida Community College as Polk defeated Manatee. The title brought SPJC its first berth in the state junior college tournament in 24 years.
"This was definitely a game we could have choked on," SPJC coach Jack Coit said.
But the Trojans (26-2 overall, 12-2 in the conference) never were close to falling apart. They jumped to a 12-0 lead behind Gerard Joseph, who had 10 of those points. "All of a sudden, it was 10-0 Gerard," Coit said.
Joseph finished with a game-high 34 points, making 12 of 15 shots from the field. David Fletcher had 25 points, Lincoln Roach scored 22, and Sean Minton had 18 assists.
Conference tournaments in the state's four junior college conferences _ Suncoast, Southern, Mid-Florida, and Panhandle _ begin today. SPJC and the other three conference champions received automatic berths into the state tournament, to be played March 1-3 in Bradenton.
Coit said SPJC next plays Saturday, against Gulf Coast Community College or Chippola.
"I'm not sure the best way to handle it," Coit said of the week-long rest period, "but I'm going to talk to some people and get their opinions."
Manatee and Polk finished tied for second in the Suncoast Conference at 11-3, and they remained tied after all the numerical tiebreakers had been used. A coin flip to determine the top seed in the conference tournament was to be held Sunday.