CLEARWATER – St. Petersburg already had Serrel Smith, an Ole Miss signee who is the reigning Pinellas County player of the year.
The lineup became even better in the summer with the addition of Tampa Catholic transfers Tai and Terrell Strickland, giving the Green Devils a trio of talented guards that can give opponents trouble.
All three have the green light to shoot.
On Tuesday, Smith and Tai Strickland made the biggest shots against Countryside in a battle between the top two teams in the HomeTeam top 25 rankings.
Smith hit a 3-pointer in the final minute to give St. Petersburg a momentary lead and Tai rebounded his own miss and made the putback with 12 seconds left for what turned out to be the winning shot in a 62-61 victory.
"When you have the guards that we have, you just keep shooting because eventually you're going to make one," Green Devils coach Chris Blackwell said. "It's like fishing. Eventually you're going to catch the big one."
While St. Petersburg (6-0) has three guards, Countryside (3-1) relied on one to stay in the game – and nearly pull it out.
CJ Williams led all scorers with 26 points, 12 coming in the fourth quarter. He scored five straight points late in the fourth quarter to give his team a 52-51 lead.
After that, the teams kept trading baskets and the lead. Williams hit a pair of free throws to give the Cougars their final lead, 61-60, with 40.7 seconds left.
"CJ is a battler," Countryside coach Dave Powers said. "He's been here for the duration and understand what it takes. He put the team on his back."
It was not quite enough.
Tai took a shot, missed, grabbed the rebound and put the ball in for the lead.
"Desperation kicked in," Tai said. "I went back up, got the rebound and the layup. I was just glad I got the bucket."
Tai had 15 points and Smith finished with 21.
The Cougars had one more chance with 10 seconds left but missed as time expired.
"It's going to be a battle like this every time we play each other," Blackwell said. "Countryside is not real flashy, but they're well-coached and they're going to get the job done.
"But we're pretty good, too."