SARASOTA -- The Cardinal Mooney boys basketball team is a veteran group that has been through the wars and knows how to take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself.
The Cougars saw that Southeast was slow on its transition defense and made the Seminoles pay dearly.
Cardinal Mooney beat Southeast downcourt to score four uncontested fast-break layups in the first half to earn a 55-45 victory Thursday night in opening-round play at the Suncoast Holiday Classic at Riverview High.
By the time Southeast woke up from its slumber, the Noles had dug themselves a big hole that buried their chances of winning.
"You take away those eight points, and it's a whole different ballgame. We might be ahead at halftime instead of behind," Southeast head coach Floyd Watkins said. "That was the topic of discussion at halftime and why my voice is about gone."
The layups helped Mooney finish with a 56 percent shooting mark on two-point field goals. The Cougars knocked down 15 of 27 while struggling from
3-point land (2-of-12).
"In years past, we've tried to push the ball, and that hasn't changed," Cardinal Mooney head coach Stephan Gates said. "We feel we have the guards who can get out and run, and we have bigs who can run the floor. That is part of what we try to do."
The Seminoles (8-4) also had problems dealing with Cardinal Mooney's defense, which held Southeast to just 32 points with one minute, 32 seconds left in the game.
Southeast was 7-of-25 on two-point field goal attempts and 7-of-21 on treys.
"Cosmetically we have a good record, but at the same time we want to get a signature win," Watkins said.
The Cougars (7-2) made it apparent from the outset they are determined to defend the tournament crown they won last year.
They never trailed and took a 15-5 lead after one quarter, holding Southeast to 2-of-13 shooting in the first period while knocking down 7 of 13 shots behind Blake Perry, who beat the Noles downcourt for two easy layups, and Ryan McMahon, who added one breakaway.
Cardinal Mooney led 23-15 at halftime. Southeast cut its deficit to 29-25 midway through the third quarter. But the Cougars went on an 8-2 run, getting three layups from 6-6 center Matt Hueston.
Layups by Mitch Arimura and Justin Najmy and a putback by Arimura gave Cardinal Mooney a 43-31 lead with 5:34 left. The Noles were forced to foul, and the Cougars converted 12 of 13 attempts. McMahon dropped in all six of his free throw attempts and took game scoring honors with 19 points.
"I thought our defense was pretty good, and we did a good job of keeping them out of the paint and contesting their shooters," Gates said. "We were concerned about Southeast's quickness and athleticism. They go to the basket hard and the offensive glass hard."
McMahon was Mooney's only double-figure scorer, but the Cougars had four players with eight points or more. Arimura had nine with seven rebounds, Hueston had eight points and six rebounds, Perry had nine points and five rebounds, and Najmy contributed eight points and four assists.
Southeast was led by Ronald Taylor and Corey Davis with 18 and 17 points, respectively, with Davis getting a team-high six rebounds.
PALMETTO 60, EAST BAY 57 -- In a battle of two highly touted teams the Tigers (12-1) edged the Indians (10-2).
The Tigers trailed 57-56 with 1:18 left when Terry Collins dropped in two free throws. After East Bay missed a shot, Jordan Young broke free down court for a layup to give Palmetto a 60-57 lead with 11 seconds remaining. East Bay missed its final shot.
Stepvon Saunders sparked Palmetto with 15 points, six rebounds, four blocked shots and four steals. Young had 16 points and a team-high 11 boards to give the Tigers a 38-27 edge on the glass.
"We might have been a little sluggish, and our execution was not as sharp as we wanted it," Palmetto head coach Reggie Bellamy said. "We had 18 turnovers and that is too many. Our guard play was a little bit up and down, but Stepvon is performing great on both ends."
BRADEN RIVER 55, ALONZO AND TRACY MOURNING 41 -- Zach Kendall scored 14 of his team-high 18 points in the second half and added three assists to spark the victory for the Pirates (5-6) over the Sharks (7-5), who hail from the school founded by former Miami Heat great Alonzo Mourning.
Deondrick Bacon played a solid all-around game for Braden River with 16 points and seven rebounds, while the Pirates' big man, 6-7 Michael Braxton, had 10 rebounds and four blocks.
"Our intensity level picked up in the second half, and I thought we did a better job creating turnovers and scoring off them," Braden River head coach Matt Nesser said. "We need to manufacture points. Zach did a great job for us. He is our scorer and point guard and plays solid defense."