Hicks, Webb face E. Alamance in state quarterfinals
No doubt about it, Oxford Webb has star power.
The question the fourth-seeded Warriors must answer tonight when they meet third-seeded Eastern Alamance (25-5) at 8:30 in the East Region 3-A semifinal is whether the rest of the planets in Isaiah Hicks’ solar system align to take the fourth of six steps to a state 3-A boys’ basketball championship.
In Hicke, a 6-9 McDonald’s All-American Hicks, Webb (24-5) has a weapon that averages almost a triple-double — 20 points, 16 rebounds and eight blocked shots.
But despite Hicks’ dominating presence, the Warriors have lost five times this year including twice to Carolina 6 Conference foe Chapel Hill — both in important showdowns at Chapel Hill.
The first loss led to Webb sharing the C-6 regular-season title with the Tigers and losing a coin flip that gave Chapel Hill the home court in the conference tournament. Chapel Hill won that one, too, grabbing home court for an eventual third-round state playoff showdown.
Hicks and Webb won that one a week ago to advance to tonight’s showdown at 9,500-seat Crown Coliseum in Fayetteville. The winner will advance to the regional championship game at 6 p.m. Saturday at the same venue. The Eastern Regional champion will advance to the state 3-A championship game March 16 at N.C. State’s Reynolds Coliseum.
Webb coach Leo Brunelli said the team has taken advantage of the weeklong layoff to fine tune its game in practice.
“It’s been great to get four extra days of work,” Brunelli said. “We’re, knock on wood, the healthiest we’ve been in a month.”
Webb can get in trouble when it looks too much to Hicks. When teams double- or triple-team the North Carolina recruit, his teammates have to pick up the slack.
They have the personnel in juniors Mitron Terry and Tyrek Beverly, both 6-3, and 5-8 sophomore guard Devonté Williams — all three joined Hicks on the C-6 all-conference team. Honorable mention C-6 picks Bryan Smith (6-3 senior) and Stefan Cates (6-1 junior) round out the Warriors’ top six.
While Hicks leads the team in scoring, Terry and Cates add 13 apiece, Beverly 11 and Williams nine. Smith averages 13 rebounds a game, but that’s second on this team to Hicks’ 16.
Eastern Alamance (25-5) counters with Mid-State Conference player of the year Lamont Robinson, a 5-7 point guard who averages 21.3 points and six assists.
Robinson is a star and Brunelli knows it.
“He’s a very special player,” Brunelli said. “He reminds me of (2012 state 3-A player of the year) Denzel Ingram of Chapel Hill, and that’s the ultimate compliment I can give a player. He’s the engine who makes the team go. He can score, pass and rebound. He can do it all. He hasn’t scored less than 27 points in their last four or five games. Despite his size, he has no issues getting his shot off.
“Against (Fayetteville) Westover (in last year’s 3-A playoffs), he made a four-point play to tie the game and send it into overtime, then hit a 3-pointer from halfcourt in overtime to win it.”
But it’s the Eagles’ big men — senior all-Mid-State Conference picks Jalyn Riley, a 6-7 center, and Kedar Sweezer, a 6-4 forward — who likely will face Hicks on defense and could be most problematic for Webb.
“We know all about them,” Brunelli said. “Top to bottom, this is probably the best team Eastern Alamance has had in years. But this is also the best team Webb has had in years.”
Sweezer and Riley are the Eagles’ top rebounders, averaging seven and five, respectively, and they can score, too. Sweezer is second to Robinson, averaging nine points, and Riley averages six points.
Guards Malcolm Summers (5-10) and Sae’Quan Rogers (6-3) average eight points each.
NOTES — One advantage Webb might have tonight is that it’s not new to playing large venues. The Warriors already have played in the cavernous Greensboro Coliseum and, when it comes to playing in front of raucous crowds, Crown Coliseum barely registers against the likes of Roxboro Person, Chapel Hill and Broughton High School, where Webb played in a Christmas tournament. ... Aside from the two losses to Chapel Hill, Webb has only been beaten by powerhouse private schools known for their basketball recruiting and talent. They were Shiloh High School of Snellville, Ga., Word of God Christian Academy of Raleigh and High Point Christian Academy. ... Webb beat Chapel Hill twice, winning at home in the first of what would be four meetings.