Leading by 19 early in the fourth quarter, the Venice boys basketball team looked to be well on its way to breaking out of a five-game losing streak.
But it wouldn’t be so easy for the Indians (3-9), as they found themselves leading Seacrest Country Day by just six in the closing minutes before finally pulling away for a 64-49 win at the New Year’s Shootout at Lehigh Senior High School.
“I was just thinking, ‘We need to put the ball in the basket. We need to find a way,’” Indians senior Chason Rockymore said of when his team was up just six points. “We can break the press, but we were moving too fast for ourselves. I looked at Chip (Barber) because he’s been playing consistent, and I said, ‘I need you.’ We need to learn how to win, I think.”
Venice turned the ball over five times in the fourth quarter and missed the front end of three one-and-one’s in a row, giving the Stingrays plenty of chances to come back.
The Indians struggled with Seacrest’s full-court press, with most of their turnovers in the period coming on failed attempts to pass the ball up court. However, Rockymore wasted no time taking over the game.
With his team up just six points in the final four minutes, Rockymore finished strong, scoring seven points and pulling down three rebounds over the final minutes as Venice held on for its first win since beating Palmetto on Dec. 18. Rockymore led all scorers with 25 points and also played tight defense, coming up with two blocks and two steals.
“I think they’re sticking to it,” Venice coach John Flynn said of his team working through struggles. “When you’re on a slide like that, everything gets magnified a little bit more. And even though we struggled down the stretch, we still had enough to keep it together.”
One of Venice’s biggest advantages over Seacrest was its first-half defense.
Switching back and forth between man defense and a 2-3 zone, the Indians built their lead with one of the most complete defensive quarters a team can have.
Aside from two points off free-throw shots by Stingray Matt Riley, Venice didn’t allow Seacrest to score at all.
By the time halftime rolled around, the Indians held a 29-13 lead and appeared to be in full control of the game.
“We were playing lockdown defense,” Rockymore said. “That really impressed me. You gotta be happy with that.”
Both teams traded buckets in the third quarter, heading into the fourth quarter with the Stingrays trailing, 46-30.
But two 3-pointers and 5-for-5 free-throw shooting from Seacrest in the beginning of the fourth brought the Stingrays in reach for the first time since the first few minutes.
Though Venice was temporarily rattled, the ball-handling of Barber and captain Brett Keyso calmed the Indians down just enough for Rockymore to put the Stingrays away for good.
For Venice, the win couldn’t have come at much of a better time as it readies to play the undefeated Port Charlotte Pirates (11-0) on Thursday before beginning the heart of its district schedule on Friday night against Sarasota.
“When you’re trying to win your first game in a while, I think there was a little bit of anxiousness, knowing that we have to win,” Flynn said. “You have to learn how to win. Winning is a habit.
“We’ve got a tough one on Thursday, but then we start Friday. And that’s what we’ve been working toward is Friday. We can’t wait for Friday.”