LAKELAND – Carrollwood Day played one good half against Gainesville P.K. Yonge in Wednesday morning's Class 4A state semifinal at the RP Funding Center.
Fortunately for the Patriots, the Blue Wave didn't play well in either half.
Using a suffocating full-court press, Carrollwood Day forced 40 turnovers, 23 of which came in the first half, in a 67-35 win. The Patriots (29-3) will play Miami Country Day (19-10) for the 4A state championship on Thursday at 2 p.m.
This will be Carrollwood Day's second straight appearance in a state final. It lost to Florida A&M High in the 3A final in 2017.
"We've got to play much better than we did today in order to beat Country Day," Carrollwood Day coach Karim Nohra said. "Too many turnovers, and that will result in about 30 points against Country Day."
Despite the defensive pressure, the Patriots had only 22 points at halftime and 15 turnovers of their own. They ended with 27 turnovers in a game that was sloppy throughout.
Neither team could get much going in the first quarter, and the Patriots led only 10-3 after eight minutes. They continued to keep the Blue Wave (20-8) off the scoreboard and started to get a little momentum. Tiasia McMillan scored a basket and C.C. Mays had two quick layups off steals to make the score 18-5. By halftime, the score was 22-7, but neither coach was happy.
"At halftime we had that loser's limp," P.K. Yonge coach Willie Powers said.
That feeling became reality in the third quarter. Carrollwood Day kept up the pressure and this time started to convert on the turnovers. Tarriyonna Gary started the quarter by draining a 3-pointer. McMillan followed with a 10-footer. Then Mays, Aryana Dizon and Jaden Harris each made layups to make the score 35-10.
By the end of the third quarter it was 52-18, and the reserves started to filter into the game. Mays led all scorers with 18 points. Gary and Weeyah McGill each added 13. Gary also had seven steals, and Harris added six.
"Once we settled in, we were able to get the shots we wanted," Mays said. "We were able to play a little bit better defense, and it helped us win."
Now comes the biggest test of the season. Country Day, which has played a national schedule this season, has won four straight state championships and looked awfully good in the semifinal against Miami Sports Leadership and Management (SLAM). The Spartans won 63-30 and led 51-11 at halftime.
Carrollwood Day, which starts an all-sophomore lineup, is not inexperienced. But it knows Country Day is a whole different challenge.
"We've been here before, so we have to just play our game," Harris said. "We don't want to end up having hurt feelings like we did last year."