LAKELAND — Paxton’s Latrell Sanders was frustrated. So too was teammate Connor Varnum.

The former slumped to the bench after collecting his fourth foul in the third quarter. The latter was sprawled out on the RP Funding Center hardwood after a fourth-quarter miss under the rim drew contact but not the whistle.

The result was a pair of blank, incredulous stares — a look that permeated a crew that entered 29-1 and ranked third in the state.

The result was a 63-51 Final Four loss to a senior-laden, top-ranked Madison County team, which ended the Bobcats' 20-game win streak and hopes of winning the program's first state title since 1962.

Paxton needed its A-Game. But these were no passing marks against the same Madison County program that featured FSU-bound Travis Jay and several stars from the 1A state title football team, which beat Baker 48-6 in the 1A championship in December.

Only Paxton wasn’t overmatched. Wasn’t shell-shocked by the bright stage. Wasn’t ever truly out of it until Madison County buried the last of a 10-17 effort from the foul stripe in the fourth quarter.

This was not a 12-point loss as the scoreboard showed. This was a Paxton team that simply couldn’t execute its game plan. This was a Paxton team that couldn’t hold onto the ball and finish what was a 36-all game midway through the third quarter.

“Ultimately, basketball-wise I don’t think they’re a better basketball team,” said Paxton coach Jeff Bradley, who led the Bobcats to the state finals in 2016. “I think they’re just a bit more experienced after making the Final Four last year.

“I also think fatigue was a huge factor. Late in the game we didn’t make shots we needed to make.”

The Bobcats entered with the plan of shutting down two of the Cowboys’ three strengths: transition offense, perimeter game and rebounding.

They went 0-for-3.

Madison Count overcame the length of 6-foot-6 Alonzo Wright and 6-4 Zach Williams and won the battle of the boards in 35-32 fashion.

Madison County shot 7-17 (41 percent) from beyond the arc, no bigger make than Dilan Lawson’s 3 from the right corner to beat the third-quarter buzzer and give the Cowboys a 51-44 lead.

Meanwhile, Madison County played 94 feet of defense and created open looks in transition, turning 20 Bobcat turnovers into 14 points and getting 13 assists on their 19 makes en route to shooting 42 percent.

Jay filled up the stat sheet with 17 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and six steals, and Damarvian Brown had a 10-point, 10-rebound double-double.

Lawson had 16 points, Vincenta Mitchell added 12 points and Chris Simmons chipped in eight points for a Madison County starting five that accounted for all 63 points.

The Bobcats, meanwhile, got 3-of-15 shooting from everyone not named Varnum, Wright and Latrell Sanders.

Varnum, despite struggling to finish around a clogged rim, was Mr. Everything for Paxton.

The 6-3 junior drew fouls left and right, burying 11-12 free throws for a game-high 19 points. He dished out a team-high five assists, which could’ve been 10 if the Bobcats didn’t shoot 4-13 from beyond the arc. He pulled down five boards and racked up four steals.

“I thought he played one of the best games he’s played all year,” Bradley said. “And he had to do it for 32 minutes. We had three guys that played 32 minutes, so every possession is so hard at that point.

“If it was our starting five against their starting five for four quarters, I don’t think they would’ve got us.”

Wright had a quiet 14-point, 11-rebound double-double when every post shot was contested.

Meanwhile, Sanders’ 11 points all came in the first half, the guard sitting out the latter part of the third quarter and missing all three of his shots after halftime.

And that’s where the Cowboys got their separation, going on a 15-8 run to end the third quarter up 51-44 after the Bobcats knotted the score at 36 on a pair of free throws from Wright.

Paxton had its chances late, trailing 53-47 after a take by Varnum followed by a fourth straight turnover by Madison County.

But back-to-back 3s and a point-blank shot in the post missed for the Bobcats as the lead never dipped below two possessions. Meanwhile, the Cowboys shot 10-17 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter (6-of-11 from Jay) to pull away and punch their trip to the 1A state finals, where they'll face Wildwood on Tuesday.

“We’re going to take this experience and learn from it,” Bradley said. “No one can ever take anything away from this crew for making it to the Final Four against a bunch that was said to run us out of the gym.

“We return eight of our nine guys next year, so we have a bright future ahead.”