The Clearwater boys basketball team advanced to its first state tournament in five years by playing lockdown defense in the final quarter of a 47-35 victory in the Class 5A-Region 3 final Saturday at Jack Wilson Gymnasium.
What appeared to be a comfortable nine-point lead at halftime nearly vanished in a couple of minutes when Venice began draining 3-pointers in the third quarter. All but one of Venice's six third-quarter field goals were 3-point shots.
"That caught us by surprise," said Clearwater's Okaro White, who scored 11 points. "It was kind of a shock."
An Anthony Hackett layup got the Indians (27-4) within a point at 36-35 to start the fourth.
The Tornadoes (28-3) played suffocating defense after that, and Hackett's basket gave Venice its final points.
"We played flawless defense in the fourth quarter," first-year Clearwater coach Allen Carden said.
The Tornadoes' interior defense was particularly impressive, which was evident on successive Venice possessions.
White, a 6-foot-8 forward who has verbally committed to Florida State, had a pair of blocks on one Indians trip down the floor. Following a Regan O'Rourke basket, White got a steal to set up a pair of free throws by Cory Carden for a 44-35 Clearwater lead.
"We play hard on defense," White said. "If they want to drive, let them drive, because I'll be in there to block shots. That's the key."
O'Rourke led the Tornadoes with 12 points.