Mariner Tritons coach James Harris saw loads of quality basketball in the opening quarter of Saturday night's Region 5A-3 finals game at Frank Morris Gymnasium.
His biggest problem? Nearly none of it was played by his team.
"They just came in tight, and you can't play tight," said Harris, grimacing as he glanced at a scoreboard telling the 64-53 verdict ending Mariner's season at the hands of Lakewood. "We missed assignments the things that we needed to do and we didn't do them."
The loss snuffed out the Tritons' hopes of reaching the state final four for the second time in school history, instead leaving that trip to the Spartans, who'll face either Eastside or Nature Coast Tech Friday in the state semifinal with a chance to advance to next Saturday's championship game at The Lakeland Center.
The visitors arrived as if they'd already booked hotel rooms upstate, racing to a 16-point lead in eight minutes while hitting 10 shots from the field, forcing six Mariner turnovers and leaving the Tritons dizzied by a plethora of alley-oops and no-look passes on one end and stifling athleticism on the other.
The Tritons made just three of 12 shots in the same stretch, a malady due to some extent, Harris said, to the enormity of the situation.
"I think it was a combination of the moment and what this game meant," he said. "Getting over the hurdle."
The lead edged up to 18 points 39-21 by halftime after Lakewood scored 14 more in the second quarter, leaving the Tritons and a small cast of seniors to re-emphasize a sense of urgency as the game and season entered its final two stages.
"We decided to play better as a team. When we get away from playing team ball, we're not going to win games," said forward Alex Sillie, one of five seniors on the roster. "We played to their tempo (in the first half). We were prepared for this team, but we didn't execute."
The locker room chatter made an impact on the floor in the initial six-plus minutes of the third quarter, a stretch in which the Tritons outscored Lakewood 21-9 and got as close as 48-42 after a right-side drive and layup by senior guard Kaleb Darrett with 1:14 remaining.
The bucket, which raised crowd noise to rafter-rattling levels, also prompted the initial bench-called timeout of the game by Spartans coach Anthony Lawrence, who slammed his fist onto the floor in front of his seated players and animatedly implored them to "go back to work."
Lakewood scored the final four points of the quarter to permanently get the lead back to 10, then made four of six shots from both the floor and the foul line in the fourth to finish the job.
Mariner's Rodney Hunter, a junior, led all scorers with 27 points joined in double digits by senior Kaleb and sophomore Isaiah Darrett with 12 apiece.
Senior guard Jacobi Boykins was the Spartans' top scorer with 23.
"With this group, giving up stretches like (the first quarter) was our Achilles heel," Harris said. "Unfortunately, we succumbed to that."
Lakewood25 14 13 12 - 64
Mariner 9 12 21 11 - 53
LAKEWOOD 64 - Boykins 9 2-5 23; Clark 7 2-4 16; Lawrence 3 7-9 13; Robinson 2 0-0 4; Ellison 1 0-0 3; Watson 2 0-0 4; Dukes 0 1-1 1. Totals 24 12-19 64.
MARINER 53 - K. Darrett 6 0-0 12; Carpenter 0 0-0 0; Hunter 10 5-7 27; I. Darrett 5 2-2 12; Deems 0 0-0 0; Sillie 1 0-2 2. Totals 22 7-11 53.