Boys basketball: Ridgewood comes up short

Clearwater nearly allows a 17-point lead to slip away late but does enough to hold off the Rams.

Published December 22, 2007

CLEARWATER - After watching his starters account for 55 of his team's 56 points against unbeaten Clearwater, Ridgewood coach Gary Anders openly lamented his team's lack of bench production.

"I'm not trying to pick on anybody," Anders said, "but we've got to have some help from some other guys."

As it stood, any help the Rams got Friday night came from the unlikeliest of sources - the Tornadoes.

Lacking composure and shooting touch at the free-throw line, Clearwater (11-0) didn't put away the Rams (7-1) when they had every chance to, instead settling for a less-than-gratifying 64-56 triumph in the marquee game of the Bright House Shootout.

"Talk to the kids," Tornadoes coach Jack Coit said. "I've got nothing to say."

Well, nothing to say publicly, anyway. Coit lit into his team after watching a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter dwindle to six down the stretch. Clearwater hit 4 of 10 free throws in the final 2:58 and was whistled for two technical fouls in the last three minutes. Coit was assessed one in the third period.

"Those last three minutes, we were trying to give the fans a good game," said Tornadoes senior point guard Luke Loucks, an FSU signee who scored a game-high 19. "Coach was just disappointed in our play down the stretch. ... That game could've gone either way. I mean, we were missing so many free throws, and they were making theirs. That's the way it goes sometimes."

Fortunately for Clearwater, Loucks had played effectively enough to that point to keep the Rams from rallying all the way back.

He scored six during a 13-1 Tornadoes run in the second period that gave the hosts a 23-13 lead. Ridgewood cut its halftime deficit to 25-20 when point guard Mike Lawrence's 50-foot heave at the buzzer banked in.

Loucks engineered a 16-0 second-half run that gave Clearwater a 57-38 lead. It began when he scored a traditional three-point play after being fouled on a give-and-go and was highlighted by his cross-court bounce pass to Adam Pegg, who then fired to a breaking Regan O'Rourke for a transition layup.

"That's why (Loucks) is going where he's going," Anders said.

Junior Lukas Poderis led Ridgewood with 17 points. Lawrence scored eight but struggled against a Tornadoes starting frontline that measured 6-9, 6-7 and 6-6.

"He was driving into some trees," Anders said. "Clearwater did a nice job. They ran some junk defenses against us, which we haven't obviously seen this year. ... I'm just proud of the kids for keeping their composure and battling."