Posted: 5:52 pm Friday, March 4th, 2011
By Jeff Greer
LAKELAND — We could use a bunch of words to describe Dwyer’s 83-58 win over Fort Walton Beach in the Class 5A semifinals. Dominant. Overwhelming. Absolute.
But summing up a 32-minute game with single words isn’t fun. Here are some of my in-depth thoughts on what took place at the Lakeland Center Friday afternoon, aside from a rout.
Friday was a delayed destruction. Not because it took long for Dwyer to basically say, “We are going to absolutely roll you.” It was delayed because Fort Lauderdale-Cardinal Gibbons and Palatka were locked in a 55-53 12-round fight. (Cardinal Gibbons advanced to the Class 4A final, but you guys want to know about Dwyer.)
What hope fans had that Dwyer (31-1) and Fort Walton Beach (29-2) would match that excitement pretty much faded at 7-0. Or maybe it was at 33-7. Or, and this is just a hunch, it might have finally gone away once Dwyer went on a 15-2 third-quarter run that turned a 46-29 game into a 61-31 one.
In other words, you never got the sense that it would be close. Fort Walton Beach turned the ball over five times on its first five possessions, and that stat is slightly misleading. Two of those possessions had offensive rebounds after airballs, and another had an offensive rebound after a missed layup. We’ll get to that in a bit.
Either way, Dwyer left no doubt about this one and easily advanced to the Class 5A championship. We’ll find out tonight whether the Panthers’ll play area powerhouse Lake Wales or St. Petersburg-Gibbs in the Saturday final, which tips at 3:35 p.m.
“We’re where we want to be,” Dwyer coach Fred Ross said.
So let’s break this game down. Here are my five thoughts on the Lambasting at Lakeland.
1. Too fast, too furious. Admit it, that subhead title is way better than the actual movie. I like to think so anyway. It applies so much better to Dwyer than it does to Vin Diesel’s bald head. The Panthers were just too quick, too lengthy, too athletic, too … everything for Fort Walton Beach.
At one point I had a perfect angle looking down the court as Fort Walton Beach tried to break Dwyer’s fullcourt press. The Panthers were in a zone press, where a player guards an area. Fort Walton Beach tried to spread the Panthers out and avoid the trap areas (like anyone would). After a quick back-and-forth between guards, Fort Walton Beach’s A.J. Shepherd saw a free man downcourt on the right wing. He lofted what looked like a pretty well-thrown pass. Greg Louis’s arm entered my periphery at the last second.
Dwyer’s 6-7 forward reached out and snatched the ball with one hand and started the fast break in the opposite direction. It stands as the perfect example of the threat that Dwyer’s length and athleticism poses.
“Their size, they can cover a lot of ground quick,” Fort Walton Beach guard Darin Webster said. “They had a lot of speed, too. If you see something that looks open, if you didn’t make a hard pass, they were in the passing lane by the time it got to your man. So, we tried to use ball fakes to try to get them moving one way so we can have the open pass, but their length and speed made up for a lot of that.”
2. Come here often? It’s such a cliche to say experience matters. It really is. But cliches are created out of some sort of repetition and regularity. And it’s just a simple, cold, hard fact that Dwyer has been here three years in a row and has some experience playing under the lights at the Lakeland Center with guys like me goofily watching them from the press row.
Heck, guard Jacoby Brissett was the star on last year’s team and a key member of the team in 2009. Both of those teams lost in the semifinals, and both of them had the level of expectations that this team does. Louis was on those teams, too.
But coming into this event, this arena, it’s a huge advantage to play a team like Fort Walton Beach, which hadn’t been to the state semis since Bill Clinton was president (1997, guys. Don’t you listen in social studies?) Fort Walton Beach had a nice team that had won eight games in a row and started the season on a 21-game winning streak, but it’s different when you get to Lakeland. I wonder if Fort Walton Beach had played any teams with a lineup that looks taller than a Swedish family (6-3, 6-3. 6-4, 6-7 and 6-10).
“Our inability to simulate their size and their athleticism … we just couldn’t get by them,” Fort Walton Beach coach John Lavin said. “They’re so fast, they’re so quick. They’re just a different type of team. And a different type of team that we haven’t seen before. Their quickness and their size really made it difficult for us to do anything on the offensive end … The big stage was a part of that, part of us not playing well. Part of it was stage, part of it was Dwyer. Unfortunately, we picked bad night to not play very well.”
Ross made it abundantly clear in the post-game press conference that he wanted to test Fort Walton Beach’s will early on. His Panthers definitely did that.
“We’ve been here,” Ross said. “We felt, if we had an advantage, it was because we’d been here the last two years and I don’t think they’ve been here in a long time. So there is an adjustment period when you step on the court and you’re shooting on the goals with no background vs. how high schools are. We just felt like we had an advantage and we wanted to come out and put the pressure on them early and see how they would handle being in a state final four.”
3. Sharks in the water. After the game, Fort Walton Beach John Lavin was thoroughly impressed by Dwyer. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what he said:
“Dwyer’s every bit as good as we thought they were,” said Fort Walton Beach coach John Lavin. “Being the team that they are, it was almost like blood in the water with sharks. They smelled that fear with some of our kids, with them missing layups. Our inability to finish and our inability to take care of the ball kind of was twofold with Dwyer gaining confidence and momentum and really sensing that and capitalizing off of that. Good championship teams do that. When they see blood in the water, they take you out. When they have you on the ropes, they take you out.”
Big ol’ center Joel James, who’s a 6-10 junior oozing with upside, offered his own thoughts on the Dwyer intimidation factor. I asked him what he thought of Lavin’s shark description.
“A shark? Nah. I look more like an elephant,” James joked. “Once you’ve played basketball for a period of time, you can really understand when you intimidate an opponent. You go in that mode and you say, ‘Hey, take over and play.’ “
4. Uh, too many guys to worry about. Dwyer’s got three kids who people outside of Palm Beach County know about: Penn-bound Greg Louis, Florida-bound Jacoby Brissett and 2012 prospect Joel James. And for good reason — those guys are all either solid players or players with major potential (James).
But then when they take the court, it’s hard not to notice 6-3 guard Victor Adams, who will literally shoot anything if you aren’t sharing a shirt with him. Kid is a streaky shooter who can light it up in a hurry, and he led his team in scoring all year. He followed that up with a team-best 17-point performance in the semifinals.
“That Adams kid can shoot,” Lavin said.
And then there’s 6-3 guard Terrell Harris, who was aggressive in the early stages of the game and got to the rim regularly. He had 12 points. Former starting guard Montel Williams had eight points and six assists off the bench. And though he had foul trouble Friday, 6-7 backup center Derrick Davis (who was a starter last year) gives Dwyer a nice post option off the bench.
5. Turnover concerns. Dwyer’s had to deal with some foul trouble this season, particularly big fellas James (6-10) and Louis (6-7). It didn’t get much better Friday — James fouled out and played just nine minutes because of nagging foul problems — but Ross was more concerned about his team’s turnovers. Dwyer started out looking to run, and the Panthers turned the ball over a few times before settling down. They ultimately finished with 22 turnovers, but many of them came after the game was out of reach.
Still, Ross wasn’t entirely thrilled about it.
“There’s always concern when you turn the ball over the way we did, even tonight,” Ross said. “A lot of times it’s because of different combinations. And again, you’re dealing with 15, 16, 17-year-old kids, and as much as we say not to look at the scoreboard, they look at it. Then they relax and try some things that they shouldn’t try, and that’s where the turnovers are coming from. But we’ll get better.”