Island Coast coach Greg Coleman said his Gators were better than the 18-point defeat hung on them by Port Charlotte three weeks ago. Saturday night in the championship game of the Mariner Christmas Tournament the Gators proved it.
"We were not in shape then," Coleman said after the Gators defeated the Pirates 67-51 to win the school's first boys' basketball championship title. "After that we changed the practice routine. The players did not like it much, but we promised them that they will be in shape. Tonight was a testament to it right there."
The Gators (9-5) played pressure defense, scrapped for rebounds and attacked the basket better that their opponent, and forced the Pirates into 19 turnovers.
"We challenged the guys to be physical because that's the way Port Charlotte plays," said Coleman. "At times I think we were a bit too physical, got into foul trouble, but it is better to be more physical than not enough against them."
With Kaleb Darrett, Angel Inchausti and Jordan Lugo leading the charge, the Gators opened 17-point halftime lead. At one point near the end of the first half the Gators led by 21 points, 43-22. As it turned out, there was no reason to worry for after a 3-3 tie early on the Gators enjoyed a lead of 10 to 15 points.
The Pirates cut the margin to 10 three times in the fourth quarter, but the Gators, especially Darrett, made free throws down the stretch to seal the victory.
The Gators spread the floor to start the final period looking for opportunities to charge the basket and draw fouls. Over the final eight minutes, the Gators converted 12 of 17 free throw chances. In the final minute of play, the Gators got an offensive rebound after missing the second of two free throws three consecutive times.
"We rebounded like crazy in the second half," said Coleman. "(Sonel) Mathurin is a rebounding machine. As a team we played hard and hustled the entire game. We were able to hold off their comeback by playing smart and hitting clutch free throws."
No one was more clutch at the line than Darrett, a 60-percent free throw shooter normally who sank 8-of-12 in the fourth quarter alone. He finished with a game-high 24 points, including 11-of-16 at the line, and grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds to go with six assists and four steals.
Inchausti connected for 18 points, 15 of those coming in the first half surge to a double-digit lead. Lugo added 12 points.
Mathurin would up with eight rebounds, but sat out most of the first half in foul trouble.
Nicksen Blanc topped the Pirates (10-2) in scoring with 16 points while Malik Dixon added 13.
In the third-place game, Mariner turned back Estero 68-56. Riverdale routed North Fort Myers 61-27 for fifth place and Cypress Lake sent Canterbury home winless in the seventh-place game 55-50.
Six players were named to the all-tournament team, headed by MVP Darrett with teammates Inchausti and Mathurin. Others were Dixon of Port Charlotte, Rodney Hunter of Mariner and R.J. Myers of Estero.
The Gators get four days to recuperate before opening the Rock Holiday Classic in Orlando at 3:30 p.m. on Thursday against Lincoln County (Ky.).
Pt. Charlotte 7 19 11 14 - 51
Island Coast 18 25 7 17 - 67
Pt. Charlotte 51 - Phillip 6, Blanc 16, Raines 4, T. Specht 6, Dixon 13, Mcloud 4, Johnson 2. Totals: 19 11-25 51.
3PG: T. Specht 2.
Island Coast 67 - Mathurin 3, Foreman 7, K. Darrett 24, Lugo 12, Inchausti 18, I. Darrett 3. Totals: 18 28-39 67.
3PG: K. Darrett 1, Inchausti 2.
Mariner won both the boys' and girls' halves of the annual tournament played Saturday at Mariner. Lely was second in the boys' tourney while Riverdale took second in the girls' field.
The Tritons boys won all three of their games, beating Charlotte 8-0, lely 1-0 and LaBelle 1-0.
Mariner's girls also won all three games, topping Charlotte 4-3, Immokalee 6-0 and LaBelle 8-0.
North Fort Myers' boys placed fifth in the six-team tourney, edging Charlotte 1-0 while losing to LaBelle 6-0 and Lely 8-0.