The students creating a “white out” at The Lakeland Center were no longer raucous.
They were diminished to a murmur.
Lakewood Ranch High School’s dream season in boys basketball suddenly came to a screeching halt.
Tampa Sickles defeated the Mustangs, 54-49, in Friday’s Class 8A state semifinal.
“I tried to come up with some really good things to say,” Lakewood Ranch head coach Jeremy Schiller said about the postgame locker room speech. “And then I just skipped it. We told each other we love each other. We had a big hug in the middle of the floor.”
The Gryphons (28-4) slowed the pace with half-court sets that routinely produced attempts from the paint. Usually, it was Bryce Workman (20 points) or Bryce Beamer (14) that benefited.
And on defense, Sickles, which held six of its previous seven opponents to 39 points or less, utilized its 2-3 zone to force the Mustangs (27-3) to hit from the perimeter. Averaging 73 points a game this season, Lakewood Ranch, which hadn’t lost to an in-state opponent prior to Friday, shot a woeful 2-for-22 from 3-point range.
“Their length, in general, really affected us,” Schiller said. “Also because we weren’t really cleaning up the defensive glass, we weren’t able to get out in transition.”
Still, the Mustangs weren’t blown out.
Not when the program’s all-time leading scorer Sam Hester was sidelined with an injured left ankle throughout most of game.
Not when Sickles outrebounded Lakewood Ranch, 38-25, with the Gryphons preventing many second-chance opportunities.
And not when starting point guard Devin Twenty was saddled with his fourth foul midway through the fourth quarter.
“They’re super talented,” Sickles head coach Renaldo Garcia said. “Those guards can handle the ball, they can shoot it.”
Lakewood Ranch battled behind Damien Gordon and Kodey Elliott’s offense, and through a group defensive effort to produce 21 turnovers.
Gordon dropped 20 points to share game-high honors with Workman. He was the only Mustang to nail any shots from behind the 3-point arc and was the key option in the closing seconds.
Schiller said he tries giving his players choices during pivotal moments. With 18.4 seconds remaining, that meant the option to try tying the game at 52-52 or driving to the rim to close the gap to one point.
“So I let Damien decide, because I trust him,” Schiller said. “And we’ve practiced it a million times. He makes a decision and either goes in or it doesn’t.”
“We just wanted to follow him off the double screen, and have that last guy, who was screening, hedge out a little bit,” Garcia said. “The one thing about this team is we’ve got a lot of length. So if you’re shooting a 3-point shot to really get back into the game, it’s going to be tough because our guys are pretty long.”
Sickles forward Denari Garrett was fouled after the rebound.
He iced the game with two free throws.
“I was feeling the pressure, but I’ve been in that stage before where I had to make two clutch free throws,” Garrett said.
The Mustangs struggled to contain Sickles on the glass and with paint production as Workman added 14 boards to go with his 20 points.
“He seals really well,” Schiller said. “When it was time to get a big rebound, he got it. Got his hands on it. Very patient around the rim to finish. He’s like an old school big man.”