TAMPA — With only one game separating Carrollwood Day from its fourth straight state semifinal appearance, coach Karim Nohra developed a defensive game plan that, if executed successfully, would be a sure-fire way to get the Patriots right back to that familiar place. They had to stop Seffner Christian leading scorer CC Mays, Nohra told them, and limit the Crusaders’ outside looks.
In the first half of their Class 3A region final on Friday, the Patriots excelled at both. That defensive prowess gave way to a season-high performance from senior center Weeyah McGill, who racked up 29 points and 16 rebounds as Carrollwood Day — ranked second in the state by MaxPreps — dismantled Seffner Christian 67-44.
“That is a stellar performance,” Nohra said about McGill’s night. “I tell them all the time, ‘I don’t care who scores. It doesn’t matter.’ So if someone’s having a bad night, somebody else needs to pick up the tempo. Tonight she picked up the tempo tremendously.”
Seffner Christian had eight and six 3-pointers in its region quarterfinal and semifinal victories, respectively, so it only made sense that the Crusaders would try to sink deep baskets to get ahead from the start. The Patriots, though, didn't give them a single open look.
Seffner Christian attempted 3-pointer after 3-pointer in the first half, only to miss every single one. Meanwhile, Carrollwood Day began the game on a 19-4 run.
"We knew we had to make sure that we took away their strengths," McGill said. "We tried to make sure they didn't get any corner shots. That's why we were in the defense we were in. We like to chop off the head of the snake, so we try to take out the players who are most important and force the other players to produce."
Throughout the first half of play, Carrollwood Day (25-2) relied on its tried-and-true strategy of feeding its inside players; more than 60 percent of the Patriots' points Friday came from McGill or fellow post player Aryana Dizon. Carrollwood Day took a 30-point lead into the halftime break.
In the third quarter, Seffner Christian (23-6) began shooting a little better, and Carrollwood Day relented a bit on the boards. The Patriots had unforced turnovers and fouls that allowed Seffner Christian to make up some ground.
Mays, who led the Crusaders with 16 points, had 10 in the second half, and Seffner Christian finally found its stride from the outside, sinking three 3-pointers in the quarter.
But none of that was enough to overcome Carrollwood Day's hot start. Seffner Christian closed the gap, but never came within 16 points.
For Nohra, his team’s first half of play was a glimpse into how good it can be when everything’s clicking. The Patriots are capable of just about anything, Nohra said. Now, for the fourth consecutive season, they’ll take that show on the road — all the way to state.
“My bigs are always on the attack. We are okay feeding the bigs all night long,” Nohra said. “We can shoot the 3. We can go inside, we can go outside, we can press you, we can run you. We’ll do whatever it takes to win.”
Starting Wednesday night in Lakeland, against Bradenton Saint Stephen’s (26-4).