3-A BOYS: Southern out after 2-point road heartbreaker
When the dust finally settled after a wild, third-round state playoff basketball game between Southern and West Brunswick here Friday, Southern coach Kendrick Hall might have summed up the night best.
Hall said, “If you love going to amusement parks and you love rollercoasters, you just get on.”
Both teams were certainly on, but it was the home-standing No. 5 seed Trojans who finished at the peak of the coaster — clinging to the safety bar — in an 81-79 final.
“We had to grind it out,” West Brunswick coach Eric Davis said. “Our team is built to grind games out. We start on the defensive end — and toughness. We preach it all year, in the offseason, all the time, about being tough and defensive-minded.”
West Brunswick will face Orange, the No. 1 seed in the East, in Wednesday’s 3-A Elite Eight matchup at Fayetteville’s Crown Coliseum at either 7 or 8:30 p.m.
The Trojans (20-7) were led by a 28-point, 13-rebound effort from Gray Cheers and 25 from Zarie Hankins. Saadiq Johnson also contributed 14 points.
The Spartans (17-11) got a game-high 34 points from Amari Hamilton, including five 3-pointers. Teammate Marvin Tillman also drained five of the team’s 12 3-pointers, on the way to 20 points.
The Spartans pulled ahead 64-61 midway through the final quarter, before the Trojans reeled off an 8-0 run to take a 69-64 edge with 2:40 to play.
But Southern roared back to close the gap to 73-72 with 53.2 seconds left. The key down the stretch was the Trojans’ performance at the free throw line, where they were 19-of-21 in the fourth quarter.
“It takes a tough teenager to step to that free throw line in those situations and make those shots,” Davis said.
The score was tied five times over the course of the first half. Hankins kicked off the second-quarter scoring with a 3-pointer that tied the score at 24-24.
Cheers sent West Brunswick into the break with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, for a 43-41 lead. Southern drained eight 3s in the first half, while the Trojans knocked down four from beyond the arc.
“We missed a couple of shots that I thought we should have made,” Hall said. “That’s just how the game goes sometimes. I’m probably the proudest coach in America right now, because the guys, they don’t never quit. What you guys have seen tonight, that’s what they’ve done all year.”
Early on, the Spartans used a three-quarter press, but the Trojans were able to handle the situation well.
At the 2:36 mark of the third period, one of the game officials had to leave the court due to a medical condition. The remainder of the contest was played with two referees.
NCHSAA East Regional
No. 5 West Brunswick 81, No. 13 Southern 79
Southern 24 17 13 25 — 79
West Brunswick 21 22 7 31 — 81
SOUTHERN — Amari Hamilton 34, Kendall Hinton 10, Marvin Tillman 20, Ben Johnson 4, Rashad Dixon 4, Greg Washington 7. Totals 27 13-20 79.
WEST BRUNSWICK – Nasir Murray 2, Gray Cheers 28, Saadiq Johnson 14, Zarie Hankins 25, Tyquan Hill 4, Alex Clarida 4, Tony Clarida 4.
3-point goals — Southern 12 (Hamilton 5, Tillman 5, Hinton 2). West Brunswick 5 (Cheers 2, Hankins 2, Johnson).
Records — Southern 17-11, Shallotte West Brunswick 20-7.