BRADENTON -- The 10th Annual Willie Clemons Holiday Classic guarantees each of its participants three games in three days, regardless of how you do on day one.
That's all well and good. But Palmetto coach Robert Kelly wants his Tigers to win the tournament, too.
Consequently, Kelly was all smiles Wednesday when Palmetto defeated Riverview 47-41 in the first game of the eight-team tournament at Southeast.
Kelly was quick to acknowledge that Palmetto (13-3) didn't play its best game. But the Tigers played well enough to reach Friday's semifinals, where they face Dover Strawberry Crest at 5 p.m.
The winners advance to Saturday's championship game, slated for a 6:30 p.m. tip-off. Waiting for them could be the host Seminoles, whose dominating third quarter pushed them to a 69-47 win over Valdosta, Ga.
Southeast faces Sanford Seminole at 6:30 p.m. Friday in the tournament's other championship semifinal.
"We've been out since Friday," Kelly said. "The main thing is to get in the winner's bracket. If you get in the loser's bracket down here, it's horrendous. We're glad we won."
The Tigers took a 27-19 lead into the halftime and spent the final two quarters keeping the Rams at bay. Riverview closed to within 41-35 on Taylor Grennan's 3-pointer with 4:55 remaining in the game, but Palmetto answered right back when Tina Stephens was fouled while sinking a lay-up and hit the ensu
ing foul shot.
Jermisha Collins and Jasmin Garibay combined for 23 points for Palmetto, with Collins totaling a team-best 12.
The Tigers now turn their attention to Strawberry Crest, a 65-20 winner over St. Petersburg Gibbs.
"They've got a good team," Kelly said. "Now that we've got a game under our game, we should play a lot better."
Southeast (15-1) led 29-25 at the half before triggering a 25-0 run in the third quarter to breeze past the Wildcats (9-2), who are coached by E.A. Wilcox, a former basketball and football at Southeast.
"I've never seen a third quarter like that," said Southeast coach John Harder.
Bevin Mays opened the period by converting a 3-point play and the Seminoles were off, fueled by big quarters from Keshawna Robinson (six points) and DeAngela Mathis (seven points). The Seminoles forced eight turnovers during the period and kept Valdosta off the scoreboard before the Wildcats' Kayla Henry hit a jumper with three seconds remaining.
Harder, however, said the performance was a carryover from the first half, when the Noles erased a 9-2 deficit and closed the second quarter on a 13-4 run.
"Southeast is 15-1, and that's the first time in those 14 prior wins that I can say the first half was good," Harder said. "Our third quarter is our money quarter, and (Thursday) we put two good ones together prior to that."
Robinson finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds and Mathis had 18 points. Mays totaled 14 and was 8-of-9 from the foul line.
"They wanted it really bad (Thursday) and played extremely well from the buzzer," Harder said. "They had a mindset that they weren't going to be beat."