As soon as he was about to walk into the visiting locker room, Cypress Bay High forward Ben Antoine shouted a statement to no one in particular.
“We didn’t come to Cali for nothing,” he said.
His Lightning traveled nearly 3,000 miles from Weston, Fla., to participate in the 13th annual Mission Prep Christmas Classic and ended their journey with a 66-45 runaway victory over host Mission Prep on Tuesday night to capture the Elite Division title — thanks largely to a lopsided second quarter.
The Royals (9-2) have yet to win their own tournament.
But the players and coaches didn’t hold their heads down, knowing the loss was another learning experience. In this one, they got to see a brand of Florida basketball that was defensive-minded with a strong inside presence — tournament MVP Antoine pounded out 15 points — and consistent shooting.
“It was simple,” said Mission Prep junior sharpshooter Connor Woolpert, who made five 3-pointers for a team-high 18 points. “They made more shots than we did.”
Cypress Bay only had a two-point lead until the second quarter, when the Lightning (10-2) outscored Mission Prep 27-10 to take a 38-19 halftime advantage — highlighted by five 3-pointers, with two of them from reserve Josh Pollack.
“They shot lights out and we lost track on defense a few too many times and they took advantage,” Mission Prep coach Terrance Harris said.
The Lightning’s offense didn’t stop with Antoine and Pollack, as agile guard Shea Jones, who is headed to Division I’s Presbyterian College in South Carolina, finished with 14 points, most of them coming off drives to the basket.
The Cypress Bay defense wasn’t bad either, holding Mission Prep to no more than 11 points in the first three quarters. The Lightning kept the Royals from going on a scoring outburst, in addition to forcing Cal Poly signee and 6-foot-7 center Zach Allmon (13 points, five rebounds) from having a presence inside.
Allmon also got his fourth foul late in the third quarter.
“They made it difficult not only on Zach,” Harris said. “Everybody had difficulties finding shots.”
In fact, the Royals hit just 16 of 45 shots from the floor.
Mission Prep cut a 19-point halftime deficit to 40-27 after back-to-back 3-pointers from Woolpert, but Cypress Bay responded with an 11-3 surge. The Lightning then finished the third quarter with six straight points for a 55-30 advantage, their largest margin of the game.
But expect the Royals to move quickly from the loss, seeing it was another lesson learned this season in which they hope to make another deep playoff push. On Friday, Mission Prep faced another tough test after losing 49-38 in the tournament’s Challenge Night to Kansas State-bound center Robert Upshaw and the San Joaquin Memorial Panthers from Fresno.
“We learned what’s out there,” Woolpert said. “We learned what’s out there waiting for us to beat in order for us to meet our goals and what we can do to move forward.”
In the National Division, Woodland Hills Taft beat La Costa Canyon of Carlsbad 58-52 to become the first three-time tournament champion. Forward Brandon Perry, headed to Cal State Northridge, scored 16 points in the win and earned the tournament’s division MVP. Teammate and UTEP-bound center Anthony January finished with 20 points.