Lakewood finds way back to the Final Four

A doozy of a dunk and MVP performance from Jalen White spark the Spartans past Lake Wales.
Published March 2, 2019|Updated March 2, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — Jalen White’s day started with a trip to McDonald’s and ended with a 29-point explosion to send Lakewood to the Class 6A Final Four.

It’s not the breakfast of champions, but the senior still managed to lead the Spartans to a 70-60 victory against Lake Wales (22-8), thanks in part to 16 second-half points.

“We started off hitting a lot of perimeter shots, so the lane was wide open,” White said. “We knew we had to take advantage of that.”

The game was tight throughout, as the Highlanders hit seven 3-pointers to match every Lakewood run. But after making just 10-of-22 free throws on Tuesday against Gibbs, Lakewood (26-3) was able to ice the game.

“Man, they were a tough opponent,” Lakewood coach Anthony Lawrence said. “Their coach did a great job over there. I thought we did real well in the fourth quarter when we executed our fourth-quarter plays. We got what we needed to get. We did a great job of executing late in the game.”

White said a turning point for his team came late in the second quarter. Leading by just two points with a raucous Highlanders crowd drowning out the home Lakewood crowd, White threw down a dunk directly over a Lake Wales player. When he came down, he drew a technical for taunting.

“In certain situations it’s like when your coach will get a tech to rile your team up,” White said. “I wasn’t mad at the tech because I knew I stared at him. I knew I was just getting the team riled up and having that momentum definitely killed their vibe.”

Lawrence said Friday’s game was a product of White’s development during his Spartans’ career.

“That’s a kid right there who’s really worked and gotten better and better,” Lawrence said. “He’s always been a big kid. He’s gonna do well at the next level, too. This is very deserving for (Jalen) with the work he’s put in. He’s just done a phenomenal job.”

Jamille Reynolds led the Spartan defense with five blocks. He came in ready to defend the paint.

“I had a crazy goal of like 10 blocks tonight,” he said.

Lawrence said the team’s interior defense was part of the game plan.

“Our plan was to push their offense out,” he said. “We wanted to switch on everything. We’re one of the very few teams that can switch on every screen and not lose anything.”

But it was White’s strong game that led the way for Lakewood.

“He’s definitely one of the best players in the state,” Lawrence said. “He just does everything. Anything we ask him to do, he can do.”

For White, that includes a morning fast food trip.

“I was late since I had to get a haircut, you know how it is,” he said. “So shout out to Mickey D’s.”