LAKELAND - Brandon senior guard Tarron Stewart sat on the bench with a towel over his head, staring at the floor in disbelief.
It wasn't supposed to end this way.
Brandon held No. 5 state-ranked Lakewood on the ropes for 3 1/2 quarters in the Class 5A boys basketball state semifinals Wednesday night, but saw its chances of playing for the state title slip away during the final minutes as Lakewood went on to win, 56-50.
The Spartans (29-2) will play No. 1 state-ranked and nationally ranked Fort Lauderdale Dillard in the state championship game Friday at 7 p.m. Dillard defeated Gainesville, 61-38, in the other semifinal.
Brandon was forced to play without 6-foot-8 power forward Evan Ravenel in the final two minutes after the Boston College signee fouled out on a loose ball. Lakewood capitalized off Brandon's 29 turnovers and sealed the game at the free-throw line, making eight of 10 at the line in the final 1:30.
Brandon trailed 47-42 with 1:10 remaining in the fourth when a 3-pointer from senior guard Blake Allen cut the deficit 47-43 with under a minute left. With 34 seconds left, the Eagles trailed by five once again, but Stewart hit a 3-pointer to make it 50-48. On Lakewood's inbound pass, Stewart was called for his fifth foul. The Eagles were forced to foul and sent 66 percent free-throw shooter Reginald Reed to the line, who made all four of his last free-throw shots.
"Both teams played hard and we knew going in both teams were going to play hard," Brandon coach Mark Hermann said. "We just had way too many turnovers. That's probably the most athletic team we've played all year. We knew that going in and we spent today preparing for that type of pressure, but we had too many turnovers."
Stewart led Brandon (24-5) with 16 points while Allen, who scored his 2,000th point early in the first half, finished with 11. Ravenel had nine points and eight rebounds while senior forward Marcus Morrison added eight points and 12 rebounds.
George Mason-bound center Michael Morrison led Lakewood with 13 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks. Junior guard Shamon Cox finished with 15 points while Reed had 10.
Brandon led 31-25 with 3:46 remaining in the third quarter when Lakewood went on an 11-3 run, which included four steals, to head into the final quarter leading 36-34.
Hermann said 29 turnovers was a season-worst.
"We didn't play as smart as we could," he said.
"That was our Achilles' heel for the game," Allen said.
Lakewood coach Dan Wright said his players came out slow in the first half, but were able to raise the intensity in the second.
"We were in a game where we were trying to find ourselves," he said. "They appeared to tire a little bit and we got some steals."
The Spartans had 15 steals and out-rebounded Brandon 46-35.
"That's our style of play, sort of a helter-skelter," Wright said. "We wanted to push them and our goal was not to let their guards get 20 or more."
Ravenel picked up his fourth foul on a charge midway through the third quarter and was forced to sit the bench until the start of the fourth.
"I felt as though I let my teammates down by getting into foul trouble," Ravenel said.
Although the 29 turnovers were uncharacteristic of his team, Hermann said they never gave up.
"I'm proud of them and they played hard for 32 minutes," he said. "That's all I've ever asked for them to do."