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Turnovers, missed shots sink St. Petersburg in Class 5A final

Fort Lauderdale Stranahan pressures the Green Devils relentlessly in winning its third state title in the past four seasons.
St. Petersburg coach Chris Blackwell, center, consoles junior guards Marquris Curry Jr., left, and Tristan Gross moments after the Green Devils lost 64-40 to Fort Lauderdale Stranahan in the Class 5A final Saturday at RP Funding Center in Lakeland.
St. Petersburg coach Chris Blackwell, center, consoles junior guards Marquris Curry Jr., left, and Tristan Gross moments after the Green Devils lost 64-40 to Fort Lauderdale Stranahan in the Class 5A final Saturday at RP Funding Center in Lakeland. [ SCOTT PURKS | Scott Purks, Special to the Times ]
Published Mar. 6|Updated Mar. 6

LAKELAND — The frustration for St. Petersburg started in the first few minutes against Fort Lauderdale Stranahan’s relentless pressure Saturday in the Class 5A state final.

Green Devil turnovers steadily mounted, and shots continued to miss their marks.

By halftime, St. Petersburg had scored only 10 points and trailed by 15, a deficit that proved too much to overcome in the final 16 minutes as Stranahan cruised to a 64-40 victory at RP Funding Center.

St. Petersburg junior Marguris Curry Jr. and the Green Devils struggled to find the slimmest of openings.
St. Petersburg junior Marguris Curry Jr. and the Green Devils struggled to find the slimmest of openings. [ SCOTT PURKS | Scott Purks, Special to the Times ]

“I would say the turnovers (St. Petersburg had 28 to Stranahan’s 10) were the key to the game,” Green Devils coach Chris Blackwell said. “You have to give (Stranahan) credit for doing a great job. I do think we got too complacent with the ball.”

St. Petersburg (25-6) was forced to play without one of its senior leaders, 6-foot-5 guard Derrick Mitchell (12 points, 6.2 rebounds per game), who left with a sprained ankle in the third quarter of Thursday’s 85-78 overtime victory against Orlando Jones in the semifinals.

Mitchell was on crutches for the final, but Blackwell said he wasn’t going to make any excuses.

“Bottom line was that it just wasn’t our day,” Blackwell said.

It wasn't easy for St. Petersburg junior guard Sam Ducksworth and his teammates to find shots against Fort Lauderdale Stranahan.
It wasn't easy for St. Petersburg junior guard Sam Ducksworth and his teammates to find shots against Fort Lauderdale Stranahan. [ SCOTT PURKS | Scott Purks, Special to the Times ]

The state final loss was the second for Blackwell, who also guided St. Petersburg to the 2016 championship game before losing. The Green Devils, who were trying to win the school’s first boys basketball state title since 1933, also reached the state semifinals in 2018.

There still remains plenty of optimism for the future, given that four of St. Petersburg’s starters on Saturday — Tristan Gross, Dylan Kramer, Marquris Curry Jr. and Sam Ducksworth — all return as seniors next year.

“We will be back,” said Gross, who averaged 20 points a game this season but finished with just eight on Saturday, largely because Stranahan made him a huge priority.

St. Petersburg guard Tristan Gross, who averaged 20 points per game this season, was held to 8 by Fort Lauderdale Stranahan.
St. Petersburg guard Tristan Gross, who averaged 20 points per game this season, was held to 8 by Fort Lauderdale Stranahan. [ SCOTT PURKS | Scott Purks, Special to the Times ]

“We thought if we shut (Gross) down we would be in pretty good shape,” Stranahan coach Edward Schuler said. “We sure did that (holding Gross to zero points in the first half).”

Stranahan, which finished the season 27-3, has won state titles in three of the last four years. The Dragons forced the Green Devils to score all their points within 10 or so feet of the basket in the first half.

In the second half, the Green Devils never got closer than 10 points of the lead.

Kramer led St. Petersburg with 14 points and seven rebounds, Curry Jr. added eight points.

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