North Central played the role of Charlie Brown with Lee Central starring as Lucy.
In the time-honored cartoon in which Lucy entices Charlie Brown to kick the football out of her hold before pulling the ball away at the last second, North Central pared what was a 13-point deficit to three points in the closing four minutes of Friday’s Region 4-AA pairing with the first-place Stallions.
A 7-0 Knights’ run, capped by a Markell Portee 3-ball from the left corner with 4:36 left in the contest brought the hosts to within 38-35. In the span of less than two minutes, LC guard DaVeon Thomas went on as personal 6-0 run to give the guests a 44-35 lead with 2:45 left in the game.
From there, the Stallions would hold on for a 50-41 victory which kept them alone atop the conference standings with a 9-1 record with two games left in league play. The Knights slipped to 7-3 in 4-AA action, tied for second in the seven-team circuit with Andrew Jackson with both teams a game up on Lewisville (6-4) which hosts NC tonight.
“We made some runs at them,” said NC ccoach Kerry Hayes said of turning Friday’s game into a one-possession contest. “We got a little winded at the end. I felt that we could have pushed a little harder, but we just didn’t.
“Once we got into foul trouble and they got in the bonus, though, it was tough.”
Facing a Stallions’ squad which handed them a 66-50 loss in Bishopville in their first meeting, the Knights got off to a slow start this time around and never held the lead. LC led by as many as 13 points on two occasions, the latter coming after a Thomas drive and a free throw to make it 34-21 with 1:55 left in a third quarter which ended with the visitors leading, 34-22, after having missed a pair of free throws in the closing two seconds of the stanza.
Getting a one-handed, five-foot floater from Avante’ Reynolds to start the fourth, NC received a 3-ball from Tyler Faulkenberry and a Jamel Jones free throw to open the final quarter on a 6-0 run. LC answered by scoring the next four points on free throws, all from LeBron Thomas, to pad its cushion to 38-28 with 6:29 left in the game.
The late NC comeback began with center Tyrek Jenkins taking a feed from Faulkenberry and laying it home with 5:21 to go. Jenkins then put back his own missed shot before Portee stuck his jumper from distance to cut the deficit to 38-35 with 4:36 showing on the clock.
Then, it was DaVeon Thomas’ turn as the sophomore hit an off-balance jumper, two free throws before going down the lane for a layup which put the lead back in safe territory at 44-35 with 2:45 showing on the game clock. DaVeon Thomas, who led all scorers with 18 points, then hit two more foul shots after another Jenkins stickback to make it 46-37 with 2:16 remaining.
The Knights scored 18 points in the less than six and a half minutes in the fourth quarter. That was in stark contrast to their ending the opening quarter with six points and having 14 at halftime in a game in which the scoring did not match the sometimes frantic pace of play.
Trailing the 19-1 Stallions, 11-6, after one quarter and 17-14 at intermission suited Hayes fine.
“I was pleased with the pace,” he said. “Even at the end of the third quarter it was 34-22. That was the pace that we were looking for tonight. We just couldn’t pull it out at the end. Their guys are disciplined, they slow the game down and they’re patient. We just didn’t have enough for them tonight.”
Playing in-your-face, man to man defense, the Stallions contested almost every NC shot and allowed just two first quarter baskets, layins from Faulkenberry and Portee, in the opening eight minutes. NC trimmed the deficit to 11-10 after getting jumpers from Portee and Jenkins in the opening 58 seconds of the second quarter.
“We knew coming in that these guys were very aggressive. They played very hard and go man-to-man against you,” Hayes said of the LC defensive intensity. “We were running our offense well, at times, but every now and then, we would make crazy passes and they would capitalize.”
LC led 17-12 with NC having two chances to cut even deeper into the lead only to miss the front end of two one and the bonus chances. The half ended with Reynolds driving through the paint as the hosts were down by three at the break.
The Stallions began to separate themselves from NC thanks in part to DaVeon Thomas who had a pair of short jumpers and one from beyond the arc during a 9-0 run which turned a tight, 22-18 game into a 31-18 Stallion led with 2:40 left in the third.
NC opened the game in a box and one to try and limit the damage from DaVeon Thomas before reverting to a 2-3 zone with the two guards at the top going out past the 3-point arc to contest shots.
“We extended our 2-3 (zone) which helped for a while,” Hayes said. “They made that run at the beginning of the third quarter, though, and we couldn’t rebound from that.”
LC (50): Javonte McLeod 5 2-3 14, DaVeon Thomas 5 8-12 18, Darius Perry 2 0-0 4, LeBron Thomas 2 6-6 10, Kentrell Holloman 1 2-3 4, De’Ablo Halley 0 0-2 0. Totals: 15 18-26 50
NC (41): Tyrek Jenkins 5 3-4 13, Tyler Faulkenberry 3 0-0 8, Jamel Jones 1 2-5 4, Markell Portee 3 1-2 8, Avante’ Reynolds 2 0-0 4, Zy Dunham 1 2-2 4. Totals: 15 8-13 41
Score by quarters: First: LC, 11-6; Halftime: LC, 17-14; Third: LC, 34-22; Three-point goals: LC 2 (D. Thomas), NC 3 (Faulkenberry 2, Portee)