Spartans come up short late

By Bob Putnam, Times Staff Writer
Published March 1, 2008

LAKELAND - Reggie Reed slashed to the basket, all speed and stealth, undaunted by the height advantage and national ranking of Fort Lauderdale Dillard.

Reed's teammate, James Pope, barreled straight to the boards. Sean Johnson did not merely defend guards, he gift-wrapped them early. And Shamon Cox calmly made 3-pointers.

Throughout the Class 5A state final, Lakewood attacked the Panthers, grabbing rebounds, racing on the fastbreak and forcing turnovers.

With just more than five minutes left, the underdog Spartans were ahead 47-42. But the Panthers were too experienced, too tall, too talented and too poised.

Dillard wasn't too stylish, but it prevailed 61-55 for the state title.

"It was a great game," Lakewood coach Dan Wright said. "Dillard just had tremendous play on the inside."

In the late stages of the game, the Spartans had big-man problems - at both ends of the court, in the lane and on the line. They had problems with small- and medium-sized guys and just about everyone wearing a white Panthers jersey.

Xiangdre Reliford and Nigel Spikes, a pair of 6-foot-7 post players, beat Lakewood inside. Kore White, a 6-foot-8 center, blocked shots. And when the Spartans tried to hold on to the lead, one of the smallest Dillard players, 6-foot Robert Burger, hit a crucial 3-pointer.

"Some teams have strength," Wright said. "Dillard stuck to theirs. And they stayed composed."

The Spartans (29-3) stayed with Dillard (29-2) for most of the first half and were ahead by as many as seven in the third quarter.

In a three-minute span in the fourth quarter, everything changed.

The Panthers went on an 11-0 run to go up 53-47. The Spartans tried to come back, but they were without Mike Morrison, Johnson and Reed, who all fouled out.

"Going into the game, everyone thought we were going to get blown out," said Reed, who finished with 13 points. "We had the game. We just made some mental mistakes at the end."

By going inside, Dillard was able to get to the foul line. The Panthers shot 46 free throws, making 28.

Reliford, the tournament MVP, scored 21 and had nine rebounds.

Two of Reliford's teammates, Javier Frazier (five points) and White (eight blocks), were named to the all-tournament team.

Lakewood had two players on the all-tournament team: Cox (team-high 14 points) and Reed.

"I'm proud of the way we were aggressive," said Wright, whose team was playing in the final for the second straight season. "We just got wore down in the end."