TAMPA — It took Tampa Catholic nearly a minute into its Class 4A region semifinal with Lakewood to get on the board, but when the Crusaders did, they did so with authority, as 6-foot-8 forward Isaiah Elmore scored on a slam dunk that got the home crowd on its feet.
Tampa Catholic's performance Tuesday was as dominating as its first basket might suggest.
The Crusader defense was on top of things from the beginning, blocking shots and preventing Lakewood from making a field goal until the second quarter. Meanwhile, Tampa Catholic’s Johni Broome commanded the rim, scoring a team-high 20 points to lead his team to a 62-42 victory. The Crusaders beat Lakewood previously by 28 in the district final.
The Crusaders' points in the paint were fueled by their defense on the other end of the court, coach Don Dziagwa said.
“We knew they were going to come in with all kinds of intensity. We just had to match that,” Dziagwa said. “I was not expecting to match it and be up 19-3. You can’t do much better than that.”
Tampa Catholic (24-5), the No. 1 seed in the region, started the game with an 11-0 run. No. 5 Lakewood got on the board with a minute and a half left in the first quarter, but scored only on free throws. The Spartans (24-6) struggled at the line all night, finishing 11-for-18.
By the time Lakewood finally sank a basket from the field with six minutes to play in the half, Tampa Catholic’s lead was just too much to overcome.
Guard Kobe Knox, who finished with 17 points, supplemented Broome’s inside game with sharp shooting from the outside.
"It helps a lot, because teams can't plan against us. They try to play inside, we've got shooters. If they try to close out, we throw it in and cut and Johni, he'll go to work inside," Knox said. "We've got pretty much a complete team."
In the second half, Lakewood made adjustments. The Spartans began the third quarter on a 9-2 run, including a 3-pointer and a big slam dunk from TJ Tampa, who led the Spartans in scoring with 13 points. Dziagwa said he expected the Spartans to forge a comeback. He also expected his team to find a way to thwart it.
Lakewood pulled within 12 points in the second half, but the Crusaders scored a quick six points to end the threat for good.
“We kind of weathered that storm a little bit, which was good. They’re a veteran, mature group of guys, and they’ve been in these situations before,” Dziagwa said. “You hope it’s going to pay off for games like this."
Boys basketball region finals
Games at 7 p.m. Friday.
6A: No. 3 Fort Myers at No. 1 East Lake
6A: No. 3 Hillsborough at No. 1 Bartow
5A: No. 3 Naples at No. 1 Clearwater
4A: No. 6 Titusville Astronaut at No. 1 Tampa Catholic
3A: No. 7 Seffner Christian at No. 1 Community School of Naples
2A: No. 2 Bayshore Christian at No. 1 First Baptist