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State basketball: Lakewood advances in family affair

Spartans coach Anthony Lawrence guides team to its first state title game since 2014 as son cheers him on
Lakewood's Jermaine Phillips (5) moves the ball down the court during the Spartans' Class 6A state semifinal against Jacksonville Paxon at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland. Lakewood beat Paxon 61-49 Wednesday. [LUIS SANTANA   |   Times]
Lakewood's Jermaine Phillips (5) moves the ball down the court during the Spartans' Class 6A state semifinal against Jacksonville Paxon at the RP Funding Center in Lakeland. Lakewood beat Paxon 61-49 Wednesday. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
Published Mar. 7
Updated Mar. 7

LAKELAND — On Tuesday, Lakewood coach Anthony Lawrence drove to Miami to watch his son play his final home game with the Hurricanes.

Lawrence II finished with a career-high 27 points and reached the 1,000-point plateau. Father and son posed for pictures with the rest of the family.

Soon after, Lawrence headed back to St. Petersburg, arriving home at 3 a.m., to get ready for a Class 6A state semifinal matchup with Jacksonville Paxon.

On Wednesday, Lawrence II returned the favor.

He drove from Miami on his off day to Lakeland to support his father. It was the first time the former Spartan great had been on the RP Funding Center court since leading the program to its last state semifinal appearance in 2014.

The Lawrences’ stellar week continued. With father coaching and son cheering on, Lakewood cruised to a 61-49 victory. The Spartans will face Fort Lauderdale Stranahan, a 76-45 winner over Nature Coast, in tonight’s Class 6A championship at 7 p.m. in the R.P. Funding Center.

“This has to be my greatest week of basketball ever,” said a beaming Lawrence as he headed into the media room following Wednesday’s win. “Man, I’m on cloud nine.”

It was reminiscent of the last time they were together at the high school level five years ago when the Spartans last reached the title game.

Everything went right for Lakewood (26-3) early on. With 6-foot-9 forward Jamille Reynolds drawing most of the attention inside, the junior was able to feed the ball to the Spartans abundance of sharpshooters on the perimeter.

Jermaine Phillips was the main benefactor. The senior hit a pair of 3-pointers in the first quarter. That opened everything else. Oteman Delancy slashed to the basket routinely and Reynolds continued to make his presence known in the paint with a few baskets of his own.

It all resulted in a 25-11 Spartans lead at the end of the first quarter.

“That was key,” Lawrence said of getting out to a big lead. “A lot of that had to do with our outside shooting. So much attention is put on Jamille to allows our other guys to get open looks. And I was proud of them because they hit shots in an an environment that can be tough.”

Paxon (24-4) battled back and cut the deficit to two (36-34) early in the third quarter.

The lead — and the game — could have slipped away. But Lakewood regained its composure and maintained a lead that reached double digits midway through the fourth quarter.

That resolve is something the Spartans showed all season. Every game has been on the road for Lakewood, which was forced to travel after a fire prevented them from using the school’s gymnasium this season.

“I think it made us tougher,” Lawrence said.

Reynolds and Delancy each had 16 points and Phillips added 13 to lead the Spartans.

Reynolds was particularly efficient around the basket, making all seven of his field goal attempts, a stat that made Lawrence smile even more.

Phillips and Jalen White were just as happy in the media room. The two are among four seniors on the team and are capping off their career with a state championship game appearance.

“It’s an unbelievable experience,” Phillips said. “If I could play in this type of environment every night I would.”

Lakewood had plenty of support. Students arrived in buses and there were plenty of faculty in attendance.

Spartans girls basketball coach Necole Tunsil was among them, sitting near Lawrence II.

“How could I not be here,” Tunsil said. “Anthony’s a tremendous coach and he’s always come to Lakeland every time I’ve made the state semifinals. We’ve known each other going back to when we were playing at Lakewood.

“We’re family. That’s what Spartans do. And I’ll be here again to watch these guys win a state title. It’s going to happen.”

Contact Bob Putnam at bputnam@tampabay.com. Follow @BobbyHomeTeam

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