Bartow received key contributions from players throughout its roster to defeat East Ridge in 6A state semifinals.
Wave after wave after wave, Bartow will go after opponents, grinding them down, wearing them down.
That’s the theme of the 2019-20 Yellow Jackets, and if ever there were a game where that was on display, Thursday night was it.
The quick simple look will show that Walter Clayton and Joshua Simons were the main reasons behind Bartow’s 68-57 victory over Tarpon Springs East Lake. To be sure, both players came up big. Clayton nearly had a triple-double with 21 points, nine rebounds and eight assist. Simons, after scoring no points with three rebounds in the first half, finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds. But if you looked no further, you missed the reason why Bartow got to the state tournament, why they won Thursday and why they’ll play for the Class 6A state title Saturday.
The tone was set in the first quarter when the Yellow Jackets used all 11 players. Five Yellow Jackets scored in the quarter, seven had rebounds and 10 of the 11 showed up on the stat sheet with at least a point, a rebound, a steal, an assist or a blocked shot.
East Lake played five players.
"It’s the way we have to play," Bartow coach Terrence McGriff said. "It’s just the way we have to play to win games. ... Everybody likes to say what we’re not. But what we are, we have a lot of people, we’re going to play hard, we play together on offense, we try to play defense, we try to rebound the ball. The guys have been tremendous in their focus and their game plans."
Through three quarters as they Yellow Jackets kept building their lead — four points after one quarter, 11 after two quarters and 17 after three — they had eight players who played more than 11 minutes and one more player who played at least six minutes. East Lake had two players who played every minute, six players who played more than 11 minutes and just one more who played at least four minutes.
Different players made big plays at different times.
In the second quarter, Clayton and Simons were on the bench and East Lake appeared to be making a run as it cut Bartow’s eight-point lead to two points, 25-23. Then Jordy Lowery scored both his baskets of the game, first hitting a two-pointer, then sinking a 3-pointer — one of five Yellow Jackets to hit from long range — and Dwyan Marsh hit his second basket of the first half, and just like that Bartow’s lead was up to nine points.
In the third quarter, Simons began wreaking havoc on East Lake inside, while his teammates continued to do damage from outside. Simons scored six points in a row to turn a 12-point lead into an 18-point lead. Then Clayton penetrated and kicked the ball out to Amarion Frazier, who sank a 3-pointer.
After Simons scored inside again, Alex Vigo sank a 3-pointer from the same location from where Frazier just hit.
None of this surprises McGriff.
"It’s the players we’ve always had," he said. "It’s who we’ve been all year, and we’re going to have to be our best version of ourselves in the final."
Bartow had East Lake running in circles. Sure they knew they had to stop Clayton and Simons, which they couldn’t, but the Eagles found they couldn’t focus on those two players. Every time they turned around, someone different made a key play. They didn’t know who to defend.
"It’s probably hard for the other teams because we’re deep, and everyone can shoot the ball on our team," Frazier said.
In the end, there’s no secret how Bartow won.
"Just wearing them down," McGriff said. "That’s kind of how we have to play. We’re proud of it. We just keep wearing them down."
Roy Fuoco can be reached at email@example.com or at 863-802-7526. Follow him on Twitter: @RoyFuoco.