Earlier this season, Lakewood boys basketball coach Dan Wright noted his Spartans' inside game hasn't been as strong as in years past.
That finally cost Lakewood in a 79-65 loss to Fort Myers in a Class 4A region final Saturday before a standing-room only house at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg.
With the win, Fort Myers advances to the state tournament facing Rutherford in the semifinals Friday.
Late in the first half, Fort Myers began to own the paint which enabled the Green Wave to build a lead that Lakewood never could recover from. When the Spartans were able to make adjustments to get better inside play, Fort Myers burned Lakewood from the outside.
"I think it was what we didn't do, and that was box out," Wright said. "At this level of play you have to do the little bitty things. Tonight, the little things are why we ended up in the deficit that we were not able to overcome it. Box out was kind of non-existent."
Green Wave's 6-7 center Josue Celestin was the main culprit early. He had 12 points in the first three quarters, 10 of which came off of offensive rebounds or tip-ins of missed shots. His one-handed dunk with 4:34 left in the third quarter gave Fort Myers a 44-37 lead.
"When [Lakewood starting hitting the boards], I thought that opened up some things for us," Fort Myers coach Scott Guttery said.
That would be the Green Wave's perimeter game.
Early in the third quarter the Spartans did a much better job of rebounding, but in the process opened up the Green Wave's outside game which was lethal. Evin Graham, Broderick Barion and Matt Yance each had a three-point bucket in the third. Graham's second of the quarter with 17 seconds left in the third put Fort Myers up 61-49,
"That's good coaching," Lakewood guard Dominic Lane said of Fort Myers answering whatever Lakewood threw at them. "That's not to say we don't have good coaching, but you have to give credit to Fort Myers.
The Spartans gave the Green Wave a scare late with a quick 6-0 run, highlighted by basket from the right baseline followed a layup, both by Jermiel Douse to pull within 70-62 with 1:42 left.
But Fort Myers dominated the remainder of the game.