CLEARWATER — For most of the first half, Tampa Catholic and Clearwater Central Catholic were locked in a tight battle befitting two teams at the top of the Class 4A, District 7 standings.
Holding on a one-point lead at the half, the Crusaders broke the game open with a frenetic pace that the Marauders were unable to match. The result was a 76-59 win that helped Tampa Catholic (3-1, 3-0) remain undefeated in district play.
"We have a little bit of that target on our back wherever we go," Crusaders coach Don Dziagwa said. "Other teams are really getting up for us every night so we got to be ready for that."
Tampa Catholic was playing its second district game in as many nights and used just eight players on Wednesday, due in large part to some football players returning from the playoffs this week.
That meant the Crusaders starters, especially big-time scorers Kevin Knox and Thomas Dziagwa had to play nearly every minute for the second straight game.
Early on, CCC (3-1, 0-1) had the momentum, jumping out to a 7-0 lead and staying ahead until Dziagwa drained a 3-pointer as time expired in the first quarter to put the TC ahead 17-16.
The Crusaders had the lead throughout the second quarter. But the Marauders stayed within striking distance thanks to the long-range shooting of Brandon Giebel, who had four 3-pointers in the first half, including a buzzer beater just before the half to cut the deficit to 35-34.
TC made some adjustments defensively, switching from a zone to man-to-man to take away CCC's perimeter shooting. And when the Crusaders drove to the basket, they made the most of their opportunities.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams was in attendance to see Knox, a five-star recruit. The junior forward finished with 32 points and 14 rebounds. Twice, Knox completed three-point plays by scoring layups, drawing the foul and converting the free throw. He was 11-of-12 from the line.
Dziagwa also chipped in with 20 points.
"I think going to man really helped shut them down," Don Dziagwa said. "It seems like sometimes our philosophy is to just try to outscore the other team but (Wednesday) I thought really played good defense, especially in the second half.
Giebel finished with 24 points, including six 3-pointers, to lead the Marauders. This was the start of a busy week for CCC with district games against Brooks DeBartolo tonight and Berkeley Prep on Friday.