There was no magic change to the game plan for Jeremy Schiller to draw up at halftime of the Class 8A-Region 3 quarterfinals against Naples Gulf Coast.
Lakewood Ranch’s 10-point lead at the break was substantial even if it wasn’t satisfying for the team ranked No. 7 in Class 8A in the latest Florida Association of Basketball Coaches/Source Hoops poll.
The path to 28 straight points without an answer by Gulf Coast, a running clock and eventually a 72-34 laugher against the runner-up from Class 8A-District 12 was as simple as executing more efficiently.
“We started to do what we were supposed to do,” said Schiller, the Mustangs’ head coach. “It wasn’t a great speech. I’m not really too much with the rah-rah and the craziness stuff. At the end of the day, we have a senior-laden team, we’ve been here before. They were aware and were accountable for how they performed in the first half, and they decided to play our style of basketball in the second half.”
Lakewood Ranch (25-2) ripped off a 25-0 run to start the second half after sinking a 3-pointer to end of the first to trigger a running clock at 61-26. The Sharks (10-13) scored two points during the third quarter on a pair of free throws and committed seven turnovers against the Mustangs’ relentless press.
Gulf Coast forced Lakewood Ranch to play its pace for most of the first half. The Sharks went back and forth with the Mustangs for the first quarter using a zone defense to turn the opening periods into a slog. Until halftime, Lakewood Ranch’s lead built steadily with occasional transition opportunities setting up easy baskets before Gulf Coast’s zone could set up or a handful of breakdowns caused by the Mustangs’ quick guards collapsing the defense inside the Lakewood Ranch High School gymnasium.
The first half we had no intensity whatsoever. We were playing slow, we weren't doing anything.
Devin Twenty, Lakewood Ranch point guard
The Mustangs left the locker room for the final 16 minutes ready to swing the pace in their favor. Seven minutes and 25 points later, a running clock all but signaled the end of the Sharks’ season and a second straight trip to the region semifinals for Lakewood Ranch..
“We knew coming in that they were going to try to speed us up,” Gulf Coast head coach Patrick Diemert said.
The Mustangs will return to their home court Tuesday for a fourth meeting with Palmetto this season in the Class 8A-Region 3 semifinals. Lakewood Ranch secured an easy 24-point win against the Tigers in the Class 8A-District 11 championship last Friday which sent Palmetto south to North Port for the region quarterfinals Thursday. The Tigers knocked off North Port, 65-61, to reach the region semifinals for the first time since 2014.
Four wins now separate the Mustangs from their first state championship and their run began Thursday with perhaps the best single performance of this already-remarkable two-year stretch, which includes a trip to the region championship in 2016. The third quarter was a display to showcase all of Lakewood Ranch’s strengths.
The Mustangs began by pounding the ball inside to Justin Muscara, who went to the line twice and finished a pocket pass from wing Evan Spiller to score the first seven points of the period. The forward finished with 13 points and six rebounds.
With the Sharks’ attention turned inward, Lakewood Ranch’s guards had space to work, and Devin Twenty and Sam Hester combined for the next nine. Hester, who led the Mustangs with 14 points, scored seven points during the period and Twenty provided an all-around effort with 11 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals. Forward Jack Kelley rounded out Lakewood Ranch’s double-figure scorers with 11 points, as well.
By the end of the third quarter, the Mustangs were emptying the bench to get 10 of their 11 players to score. By the end of the fourth, Lakewood Ranch was hunting for opportunities to get wing Blauvelt Georges a highlight-worthy dunk. The Mustangs have had routs with similar scores before, just never one in a spot like this or with a singular display like the third quarter’s.
“That was the first time I’ve ever saw us play like that and I don’t think it’s going to be the last time,” Twenty said. “We have a long way to go. We’re ready.”
Class 8A-Region 3 semifinals
Palmetto at Lakewood Ranch, 7 p.m.
Tampa Bay Tech at St. Petersburg, 7 p.m.