Eastside's playoff run ends with loss to Lakewood
Published: Friday, February 28, 2014 at 4:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 28, 2014 at 5:25 p.m.
LAKELAND — There are a lot of reasons why St. Petersburg Lakewood, not Eastside, will be playing this morning in the Class 5A state championship against Plantation American Heritage.
Turnovers — the Rams had more against the Spartans on Friday;
Fouls — Eastside had more of those too, leading to ...;
Free throws — the Spartans had a bunch, 22 more made than Eastside, and;
Points — the bottom-line category, Lakewood won that also, especially when it mattered most in the fourth.
The Spartans had three players in double figures, led by 6-foot-7 junior guard Anthony Lawrence's 18 points with 12 rebounds, and outscored the Rams 15-6 in the final period for a convincing 60-46 win in the 5A state semifinals Friday at The Lakeland Center.
Down just three points twice in the third period and entering the fourth behind by only five (45-40), Eastside went scoreless for more than six minutes at the worst time. When Darius Norman ended the drought with a 3-pointer with 1:52 to play, the Rams were down 10 and out of it.
“I think it was a great game, a hard-fought game,” said Eastside coach Pop Williams, who won the 5A state title the last time his team was at state in 2006. “I think their experience took a toll on the game during one stretch. We got it down to four or five points, but then ran out of gas during one point of the game.
“We didn't get to the line as much as I thought we would, and they did. I think that was the difference in the game and put it out of reach.”
Junior Marquez Ross led the Rams (24-7) with 18 points, 15 in the second half, where he also hit on three of his four 3-pointers. Darius Norman, another junior who got two first-period fouls and sat out the second period, had 11.
“I was more confident shooting the ball,” Ross said. “This was my first time here too in this environment. I wanted it more in the second half, I tried to play harder in the second half.”
Junior guard Thomas Lundy, who played so well in the regional final win over Brooksville Nature Coast, struggled as he went scoreless, missing all 11 field-goal attempts and all four free-throw attempts.
“I was a little nervous, I have never been in an environment like this,” he said. “I tried to play my game, but it wasn't coming to me. I was struggling. I am a shooter, coach Pop says keep shooting until you hit.”
Louisiana Tech signee Jacobi Boykins and Joqui Ellison each had 12 for Lakewood (20-11), which will play in its first state final since 2008. The 5A title game is set for this morning at 10:05.
“We really wanted to push the ball and get easy buckets, putting pressure on their defense,” said Spartans coach Anthony Williams Sr. “Our guards are big and athletic, they are able to get out. We focused on hitting free throws this whole week. That was big on a stage like this.”
Lakewood grabbed its first lead at 7-5 and was up by eight (20-12) by the end of the first period. But Eastside went on a 5-0 run to open the second, getting a basket from senior Seth Brown and a 3-pointer by fellow senior Mykell Hicks, to pull within three at 20-17 and was down 21-16 at half.
The Rams were called for eight fouls in the first half, compared to the Spartans' three, and Lakewood took advantage, hitting on 7 of 10 at the line.
It wasn't until 5:40 left in the third that Eastside took its first free throws, with Ross hitting a pair, two of his 12 points in the third, as the Rams stayed within striking distance, down by five heading into the fourth.
Two 3-pointers (one each by Norman and Ross) were the only points the Rams could muster in the final eight minutes.
“I think at one time in the game the kids got a little timid and weren't going for those loose balls off the rebound,” Williams said. “That kind of hurt us down the stretch too.
“I have three ninth-graders that got good varsity experience this season and have some kids coming in that are going to be pretty good.”
Among the Eastside seniors who played their last game as Rams was Barry Johnson, a standout defensive lineman who signed a football scholarship with Bethune-Cookman. He finished with 10 rebounds and eight points, six in the first period.
“I am proud of the team, the way we came together,” Johnson said. “I am proud of the season really, I just wished we could have gone further.”
With the return of juniors Lundy, Ross and Norman, the Rams should be contenders again next season.
“After this season, I just want to work harder for next season,” Norman said. “We will be trying to get back here for sure. The work is going to start tomorrow.”