A first-quarter tidal wave of pressure defense gave Fort Myers a lead it would never relinquish in a physical 53-49 win over Naples High School to begin its state playoff run.
The Green Wave came out with its full court press that left Naples reeling. The Golden Eagles turned the ball over seven times in the first quarter, allowing Fort Myers to sprint out to a 16 to 2 lead. Naples scored its only 2 points from the foul line.
But the Golden Eagles returned the pressure with some defense of its own, using a zone press to slowly crawl back into the game. Naples kept taking the ball to the rim and Fort Myers obliged with fouls.
“We just couldn’t hit any shots,” said Golden Eagles coach Pierre Eaton. “But we were making the points at the free throw line but we couldn’t get the shots to fall from the floor.”
Fort Myers coach Scott Guttery agreed the game showed the good, the bad and the ugly.
“We got out with our press so well and got some easy buckets off of it but then we just let them back into the game,” he said.
Leading by 9 at the half, Fort Myers held off a furious Naples rally led by sophomore guard Isaac Tibercio who joined senior center Mark Karr with a team-high 10 points.
“Our sophomores handled the pressure better than our seniors,” said Eaton, pointing out the defensive effort by forward Dante Hoppa.
But the Green Wave refused to let Naples back into the game. Junior forward Wes Graddy hit his free throws and made some clutch buckets in the second half on his way to a 16-point night to lead Fort Myers.
Sophomore guard Mark Matthews added 11 more and Fort Myers managed to keep Naples overcoming the early deficit.
“We’ve got to stay consistent with our pressure and protect the ball,” said Guttery, flustered by the 15 turnovers that Fort Myers gave to Naples.
“I keep telling them we’ve got to take it one game at a time if we’re going to get to where we want to go,” Guttery added.
Fort Myers moves to 24-4 on the year, advancing to a Tuesday showdown with Island Coast, while Naples closes out its season 19-9.