Boys basketball: Tornadoes do just enough

Clearwater nearly lets a 17-point lead slip away down the stretch before holding off Ridgewood.

By BY JOEY KNIGHT, Times Staff Writer
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 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 came from the unlikeliest of sources - the Tornadoes.

Lacking composure and shooting touch at the free-throw line, the Tornadoes (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 win 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 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. But the Rams cut the 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, scoring five more and setting up chances for others.

The run began when Loucks scored a traditional three-point play after being fouled and was highlighted by his cross-court bounce pass to Adam Pegg, who then fired to Regan O'Rourke for a transition layup. It ended with Loucks flicking a pass to Sean O'Brien (14 points) for a layup.

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

O'Brien scored 11 of his 14 in the final quarter, including a 3-pointer that gave his team a 60-43 lead with a little more than three minutes to play. It would be the Tornadoes' last field goal.

"We play good together in streaks, and then it just disappears," said Pegg, who fouled out with 1:57 left. "We've got to play together like that all the time."

Clearwater 64 Ridgewood 56