Lakewood goes up by 15 in the fourth and - unlike last season - puts Kathleen away to reach the state semis.
By JOHN C. COTEY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 3, 2002
ST. PETERSBURG -- This was the same exact situation as last season -- playing great basketball, buoyed by a home crowd overflowing with anticipation, up 15 points with seven minutes left in their biggest game of the season. But that's as close to last season as the Lakewood Spartans wanted to get. Whereas last season, they fell apart at this juncture, this time, they soared to new heights. They played even better.
They dropped the hammer on their nemesis, Lakeland Kathleen.
When it was over, last season's collapse was but a distant memory -- what collapse? -- as the Spartans played their best game of the season and routed the Red Devils 86-54 in the Class 4A, Region 3 final.
For the fifth time in coach Dan Wright's 25 seasons, the Spartans advanced to the final four. They have never won a state championship, though, and will first have to get by Leesburg in the semifinals Thursday in Lakeland.
"I said on Thursday I thought we were going to play our best basketball," Wright said.
"And we did."
The Spartans (32-2) looked ready from start to finish. It jumped out to a 24-6 lead. Kathleen rallied to get within 35-34 late in the second quarter.
But Lakewood never lost its lead.
And when it found itself up 15 with seven minutes to go again, it responded with a 24-5 run and put away the defending state champs and No.1 team in the 4A state poll. "We wanted it too much," center Brian Ligon said. "I was thinking (about last season) when they came back on us. I'm not going to lie.
"But coach told us what we needed to do at halftime, and we did it. I knew early in the third quarter we had it. I felt it."
Kathleen star Rashad Anderson never felt it because he was hounded by Maurice Robinson.
Giving away 7 inches to the all-state Connecticut signee, Robinson played every minute and held the Red Devils' leading scorer to 16 points, just two in the second half.
"They did a great defensive job on me," Anderson said. "A great job."
Ligon also picked up his defensive effort in the second half in shutting down 6-foot-9 center Chris Richard, who had 14 points in the first half but just one after the break.
Kathleen made just three field goals in the second half and was outscored 43-17.
That left the offense up to Kevin Dorsey and Marcus Morrison. Both finished with 26 points. Both made four 3-pointers, and Dorsey fed Morrison for two rim-rattling alley-oop dunks.
"They deserved it tonight," Anderson said. "They beat us ... convincingly."