Mariner Tritons coach James Harris knew he had his hands full against Class 6A powerhouse Miami Norland Saturday afternoon in the Sunshine Series match of the City of Palms Classic at Bishop Verot High School.
He also knew his Tritons wouldn't go down without a fight, which is exactly what happened.
Thanks to its inside presence, the Tritons got out of the blocks fast, but Norland's defense took charge in the second quarter and never looked back en route to a 54-31 win.
The Vikings (9-0) got a huge game from Georgia Southern-bound senior shooting guard Cleon Roberts, who led the way with 27 points, six assists and three steals. Meanwhile, their defense adjusted when the Tritons made a game of it early.
"We defend. We're not near where we want to be on offense," Norland coach Lawton Williams said. "We frustrated them with the press. It's difficult to simulate that in practice."
Early on, senior center Kendrec Ferrera, who is committed to Furman, scored the Tritons' first 10 points and started the game with a thunderous dunk that gave his team a bounce.
"We have never had a guy that big and skilled who can use both hands," Harris said of Ferrera, who wound up with 17 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks. "His dunk set the tone."
Ahead 14-12 after one quarter, Norland turned up the heat. The Vikings doubled backside on Ferrera and went after the Tritons with the press which helped produce a 13-2 run to balloon the lead as large as 12 points.
The Tritons (7-3) cut it to nine by halftime at 27-18, but that was as close as they got. Roberts took charge. His three-pointer upped the Vikings' lead to 34-20 with 4:37 left in the third to essentially seal it, then pulled away further in the fourth as the thinner Tritons tired late.
"We have slow starts. We tried to pick it up in the second quarter," Roberts said. "They have a good low man and we kept him outside."
The Tritons committed 21 turnovers compared to just five for Norland and was held to 33 percent from the field and just 1-of-10 from three-point range.
"We came out ready to play. We wanted experience against the top teams and the offense dictated the tempo," Harris said. "We're young and we have to learn to handle pressure. Norland did things we don't normally see."
Though it ended in a loss, Ferrera loved the challenge of playing against the best.
"These kids are high major players and I'm a mid-major player," Ferrera said. "When you get to states you have to play teams like this."
Norland 14 13 9 18 - 54
Mariner 12 6 5 8 - 31
NORLAND 54 - Cleon Roberts 27, McCrea 6, Williams 6, Fils-Aime 4, Deceus 4, Fabien 3, Cooper 2, Duncan 2. Totals: 21 8-10 54. 3PG: 4
MARINER 31 - Ferrera 17, Moore 7, Hunter 6, Minto 1. Totals: 10 10-13 31. 3PG: 1.