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By ERIC VICIAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 26, 2001
LAKELAND -- St. Petersburg's Dwayne Smith and Sharrod McCree used to beat up on each other as stars at Lakewood and Boca Ciega high schools, respectively. Now, as teammates for Eckerd College, their combined talents are proving lethal.
Sunday, the duo paced the Tritons to a 91-64 win over Saint Leo in the opening round of the Sunshine State Conference tournament at the Lakeland Center. Smith, a junior, led all scorers with 17 points, including three three-pointers. McCree scored 14 off the bench as second-seeded Eckerd (22-6) advanced to play Barry at 6:30 tonight.
Eckerd used a 15-2 run to start the game and hit 10 of 19 three-pointers to pull away from Saint Leo, which handed the Tritons their last loss, 71-68 on Feb. 14.
"Everything was going in," Smith said. "I was feeling good so why not shoot it?"
Smith, who missed only two shots, did more than shoot from the outside. The man his teammates call "Tiny" played huge in the post as well. He dunked on the end of fastbreaks. He drove the lane and soared over bigger defenders for baskets. At one stretch in the second half, he scored 10 consecutive points on back-to-back three-pointers and back-to-back dunks.
With Smith as the catalyst, the rest of the Tritons filled out their roles. And that, according to Eckerd coach Tom Ryan, is Triton basketball at its best.
"When we share the ball, we get great shots," Ryan said. "We've had a balanced attack the past three games."
Eckerd shot 50.8 percent from the field as it converted on fastbreak points and post plays all night.
Eckerd won't get a chance to beat Tampa for a third time because sixth-seeded Barry knocked the preseason favorite out of the tournament 67-62. The No. 25 Spartans, who blew a shot at the No. 1 seed with a 67-63 loss to Eckerd in the regular-season finale Wednesday, came out flat in the day's opening game and never recovered against a Buccaneers team they swept in the regular season.
The Spartans, who trailed by as many as 15 points, pulled within 61-59 with 2:19 remaining, but 27 points from Jason Junker proved too much for Tampa to overcome. Tampa, which got 20 points from junior Gecarri Freeman, must wait to see if its 21-6 record is good enough for an at-large bid to the NCAA Division II tournament. If the conference gets three teams, the Spartans could make their 13th NCAA appearance.
In other action, Rollins beat Lynn 67-57.
In the women's bracket, Tampa advanced with a 73-61 win over Barry. Yushonda Morse and Jessie McDowell owned the paint, combining for half the Spartans' 50 rebounds. McDowell, who increased her league-leading shot-blocking total to 89 with four against Barry, led the Spartans (19-8) with 18 points.
Eckerd nearly pulled off the biggest upset of the day but came up short against second-seeded Florida Southern 64-58. The Tritons (16-13) took a 34-29 halftime lead and built an 11-point advantage in the third quarter on the strength of Felicia Felton's game-high 21 points. Former Clearwater High standout Alicia Evans (17 points) sparked the Moccasins' comeback with a three-pointer in the final 30 seconds.
Florida Southern takes on Florida Tech, a 94-70 winner over Lynn, in today's 12:30 p.m. game.