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Late-game putback lifts Stallions to 58-56 win over North Central

Posted: January 4, 2018 9:48 a.m.
Updated: January 5, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I

NORTH CENTRAL’S JAMEL JONES protects the basketball while being closely guarded by Lee Central’s DeMarcus Smith in action from Tuesday’s game at The Castle.

Finding enough players to practice over the holiday break was a struggle. Finding those with heart and stamina was an entirely different story.

Playing just seven players and four of those for the entire game, North Central gave visiting and fifth-ranked Lee Central all it could handle and then some for all but two-plus seconds of their 32-minute Region 4-AA contest played inside The Castle in Boonetown Tuesday night.

It took a Doequan Thomas stickback of a missed shot from Torian Wilson, which barely drew iron, for the Stallions to take a 58-56 lead with 2.1 ticks left in the game clock. Markell Portee then heaved a prayer from some 50-plus feet away which smacked off the backboard and fell harmlessly to the floor at the buzzer.

The Thomas putback followed a pair of missed NC free throws with 1:21 left with the game tied at 56. The guests held onto the ball until Wilson fired up a short jumper in the closing eight seconds. The shot also put the brakes on a furious fourth quarter comeback in which the Knights (3-7, 1-1 in 4-AA) rallied from a 50-37 deficit with less than seven minutes to play to even things at 56 with fewer than two minutes remaining.

Making the fourth quarter surge even more impressive is that the hosts did it with senior Cam Holley and juniors Tyreek Jenkins, Jamel Jones and Portee each logging all 32 minutes. When junior guard Esteban Rodriguez fouled out early in the third quarter, it allowed guard Avante’ Reynolds to see the floor and the freshman went off for 12 of his 16 points in the closing five and a half minutes of play.

Reynolds, along with Nick James were the only bench players to see action as second-year head coach Kerry Hayes sent a message to those players who did not show up for the team’s practices in the  days between beating Camden for third place in the Mid-Carolina Credit Union Holiday Classic on Dec. 20 and Tuesday’s conference pairing.

“I’m so proud of those guys,” Hayes said of his starters and the four who did not get a breather. “Those guys came to practice and kept our practices alive. They gave the effort, even though they were missing teammates. Then, tonight, they came out, they were in shape and they played hard for four quarters.”

It looked as if the juice was sapped from the Knights’ core four after LC’s (8-2, 2-0 in 4-AA) Thomas and Amadrie Mixon opened the fourth quarter by knocking down consecutive threes to hike the visitors’ advantage to 50-37 with 7:08 left in the game.

Ironically, the NC rally started with a pair of missed free throws of which the hosts had 13 of on a night that they made 22 trips to the stripe. What became an 11-0 NC run began when Portee, who led off scorers with 19 points, drove the lane for a pair with 6:40 to play. Eighteen seconds later, his two free throws made it 50-42.

Reynolds took the baton from Portee and would score his team’s next 12 points starting with a breakaway layin which led to an LC time out with 5:31 left. Reynolds then grabbed a loose ball under the basket and deposited for a bucket before going on a run-in basket after a steal and pass from Jamel Jones as the lead was chopped to 50-48 with four minutes remaining.

A Thomas drive and two Wilson free throws temporarily stemmed the tide as the Stallions were up six at 54-48 with all threes showing on the game clock. A Reynolds free throw followed by his raining down a 3-ball in a span of 32 seconds closed the gap to a pair at 54-52 with 2:32 to play. Reynolds was not done, yet, as he answered a pair of Thomas free throws by driving the lane for two as the LC advantage remained at two, at 56-54, with just more than two minutes to go.

“He’s good on the dribble-drive,” Hayes said of what Reynolds brings to his team’s offense. “He’s one of those guys who missed two or three practices so unfortunately, we couldn’t put him in until late in the game. Those are the consequences (of missing practices). He didn’t pout, though. He came in and gave the effort which was necessary to help us.”

NC evened things at the 1:46 mark of the fourth quarter as the 6-foot-5 Jenkins took a cross-court feed from Reynolds and laid it off the glass to level teh game at 56. NC’s chance to grab the advantage for the first time since the second quarter went by the boards with a pair of missed foul shots with 1:21 left. When LC grabbed the rebound, it allowed the guests to milk the clock and play for the final shot or, in this instance, late-game carom.

Following the contest, in the hallway outside his team’s locker room, Hayes said his players were not ready to quit in spite of facing a 13-point, fourth quarter deficit.

“The effort; the guys kept playing hard and gave the effort that was necessary,” he said of the late-game run staged by the Knights. “Our shots started falling; we were driving to the basket, got them in foul trouble and made a run there at the end.”

NC expected the Stallions to try and hike the tempo of the game by employing full-court pressure which never came its way. LC struggled from the field in the early going as the Knights used five points from Portee to lead the way as the hosts held a 10-7 edge after one quarter which was extended to 14-7 after Holley hit a five-foot runner from inside the paint before an LC turnover turned into a Jenkins layin with 6:11 left in the opening half.

Hayes said the pace of play in the early stages of the contest favored his team and his shortened bench.

“It was what we wanted,” he said of an oftentimes sluggish tempo. “I’m surprised they didn’t press us tonight. We prepared for the press all week long because they have 15 guys and they go five-in and five-out.

“(LC) likes to run and our game plan tonight was to try and slow it down and create our pace. We were able to do that. We played to the pace that we needed to have a chance to win.”

A 10-0 LC run gave the guests their first lead at 17-14. The third of four treys from Mixon with 50 seconds left before intermission made it 26-20. NC closed the first 16 minutes with Jenkins scoring on a third putback with four seconds showing to make it a four-point game at the break.

Missed free throws continued to plague NC in the third quarter as the Stallions used a 13-7 run led by six points from DeMarcus Smith to open a 39-29 lead with 2:26 to go in the third. Reynolds gave a preview as to what would come in the final stanza as his two short jumpers drew NC within 41-37 before a traditional 3-point play from Daven Thomas with 1.3 seconds left in the third giving LC a 44-37 cushion heading into what became a wild fourth quarter.

Doequan Thomas’ game-winning stickback was his second basket of the game. The Stallions dressed out 15 players with nine finding their way into the scoring column led by Mixon’s 12.

For the Knights, after Portee’s 19 and 16 more from Reynolds, their next highest scorer was Jenkins with eight as six of the seven players who saw playing time for the hosts contributed points in the heartbreaking setback.

In spite of the loss, Hayes found out plenty about his team’s heart. He said the Knights will move forward from this effort as they prepare for the meat of region play which continues tonight when Cheraw comes to The Castle.

“Again,” he said, “we gave the effort that was needed. I told our guys that (LC is) one of the top-ranked teams in the state and we were right there with them. Hopefully, we can build off this game and it will bring us together for the rest of our conference games.”

LC (58): Shyken Cooper 1 0-1 2, Amadrie Mixon 4 0-0 12, Treson Pringler 1 0-0 2, Daven Thomas 4 2-3 10, Dayire Austin 0 0-3 0, Kaquan Simon 2 2-2 6, Deandre Oliver 1 1-5 3, DeMarcus Smith 1 4-5 6, Torian Wilson 4 2-2 10, Doequan Thomas 2 2-2 7. Totals: 20 13-23 58

NC (56): Tyreek Jenkins 4 0-4 8, Cam Holley 2 0-2 5, Markell Portee 6 6-9 19, Esteban Rodriguez 2 0-0 4, Jamel Jones 1 2-4 4, Avante’ Reynolds 7 1-3 16. Totals: 22 9-22 56

Score by quarters: First: NC, 10-7; Halftime: LC, 26-22; Third: LC, 44-37; Three-point goals: LC 5 (Mixon 4, D. Thomas), NC 3 (Holley, Portee, Reynolds)


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