Like a punched-out fighter, the Miami Tropics clinched, grabbed and held on for a 98-87 win over the Suncoast Sunblasters in their United States Basketball League opener Wednesday night at Clearwater Central Catholic. The Sunblasters' Jose Slaughter had 22 points, but Miami's Shelton Jones took scoring honors with 23 as the game, which started out as a double-digit rout, turned close before an estimated 200 fans.
Clearwater's Allen Williams sparked a fourth-period comeback, finishing with 14 points.
"We were tentative in the first half," said Sunblasters coach Curtis Pickering. "At halftime I told them our goal was to cut the lead to single digits, and then go for the win. We did that, and I couldn't be more proud of the way our guys played."
The Tropics, delayed by a late bus, didn't arrive until 8 p.m. and the tip-off was at 8:23.
It didn't slow Miami down, however, as it opened a 16-point halftime lead and pushed that to as much as 20 in the second period. Lloyd Daniels had nine points and five assists, but Jones did most of the damage, keying an 11-point run in the first period and totaling 17 points for the half.
Jones got a slam dunk and a foul with 6:39 remaining in the first period. He completed the three-point play to give the Tropics an 18-6 lead, followed by another basket off a drive. Ron Mathias got a backcourt steal to run the score to 22-6.
Meanwhile, the Sunblasters were missing connections. Slaughter was a bright spot, with 18 in the first half, but the Sunblasters didn't reach double figures until late in the period, when Keith Lee hit two foul shots with 3:33 left.
"We wanted to come out and run on them," said Miami's Jones. "But in the second half, I think we ran out of steam."
Suncoast opened the third period with six unanswered points, and Slaughter cut the lead to six with two foul shots with just over four minutes left in the third. Then Williams scored eight straight points to make it 73-70.
With the score 89-85, Daniels hit a two-point shot and a three-pointer to put the Tropics over the edge with just over two minutes remaining.