Jeremy Schiller implored his team to make a stop.
Lakewood Ranch High’s boys basketball coach has built a defensive juggernaut over the past few seasons, and he was watching his Mustangs struggle to thwart Sarasota Booker’s Jordan Curtis.
The message was received loud and clear.
Lakewood Ranch (10-4) emphatically responded to Schiller’s request when the Mustangs held Booker scoreless for nearly four minutes during a crucial stretch in Wednesday’s anticipated non-district showdown between the area’s top two ranked programs.
Then the Mustangs continued their stout defense to limit Curtis to 10 second-half points en route to a 94-73 victory.
“Leaving with a 20-something point win is a big deal against them, because they are very good,” Schiller said.
Lakewood Ranch, which played a brutal schedule to begin its season, is ranked sixth in the state in Class 8A, while Booker came in ranked third in 6A with just one loss.
But Wednesday’s playoff-like atmosphere with a packed crowd inside Lakewood Ranch’s gym saw the Mustangs utilize defense and offensive depth to wear down the Tornadoes.
“The main thing was just putting in effort,” said Mustangs senior guard Evan Spiller, who scored 12 points. “Simple stuff like moving on the flight of the ball, closing it out ... stuff like that, that we weren’t doing in the first half.”
Damien Gordon led Lakewood Ranch with 27 points, while Keon Buckley added 21.
Curtis finished with a game-high 33 points.
“I’ve been playing against him for six, seven years now,” Gordon said. “I’ve known him since middle school. He’s a really good player. ... It’s really fun to go at someone like that. Just us going back and forth just makes both of us better.”
Lakewood Ranch’s defense forced the ball from Curtis’ hands in the second half, and Booker struggled to find a consistent scorer in his place.
Schiller requested his team to get stops on the defensive end in the second quarter, and that’s when Lakewood Ranch tallied two steals and Buckley drew a charge.
Booker turned it over on a traveling violation two possessions later and the nearly four-minute scoring drought allowed Lakewood Ranch to get a lead that quickly turned into a 47-40 halftime advantage.
“When we started to defend at the level we needed to, we were able to pull away from them,” Schiller said.