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By Sam Hickman
LELAND—As he watched his two leading scorers struggle offensively early in the game, West Brunswick’s third-year head coach Eric Davis knew his team had to clamp down on the defensive end on the road against North Brunswick.
That’s exactly what the Trojans did on
Jan. 29 as West held the Scorpions to 22 first-half points on their way to a 60-52 triumph, a win that vaulted West into first place tie with North Brunswick and South Columbus in the Waccamaw 2A-3A Conference.
With the victory, the Trojans also secured a regular-season sweep of their cross-county rivals. West beat North 66-53 Jan. 2 in Shallotte.
Davis attributed the difficult road victory to an impressive effort on the defensive side of the ball.
“Our defense was solid most of the night,” said Davis, whose West squad improved to 8-7, 5-2 in the league. North is 10-6 overall, 5-2 in the league.
“When you go into somebody else’s gym—where they practice every day—and can’t put the ball in the hole, great defense allows you to stay in the game,” Davis said.
West Brunswick not only stayed within striking distance but claimed an early lead behind a balanced offensive attack that buoyed the Trojans while Gray Cheers and Markel Jones, the team’s two leading scorers, managed four first-half points combined.
West fell behind by two midway through the first quarter before reserve guard Saadiq Johnson buried a pair of deep 3s to give the Trojans a lead they would not relinquish. Johnson’s treys highlighted an 8-2 spurt to close the opening frame. Jawon McNeil’s putback just before the first-period buzzer sounded capped the West Brunswick surge, staking the visitors to a 14-10 lead.
North Brunswick tied the game twice during the second quarter, the last time at 20-all with three minutes remaining before halftime.
Once again, the Trojans pieced together an impressive run to close a quarter. Senior forward Quentin Ash led the charge with an old-fashioned three-point play and a driving layup with three seconds left in the half, capping a 9-2 spurt. West led 29-22 at intermission.
Ash, who did not play on last year’s team, has seen increased playing time because of his improvement on the defensive end, Davis said.
“He was so far behind defensively because he didn’t play last year,” Davis explained. “These last three weeks, he has started to understand where he needs to be on that end. He’s getting better and now he can help us with his rebounding and scoring.”
The Scorpions trimmed their halftime deficit to three during the early stages of the third period behind consecutive baskets from Nik Sloan and Adam Jacobs. The momentum North built with the early baskets was quickly thwarted by West, which reeled off nine straight points in a two-minute span to push the lead to 12, 38-26. The stretch included a 3 from Jones, who battled back spasms throughout the contest. It was the senior guard’s only field goal of the game.
Trailing by 12, North Brunswick responded with a run of its own. Jacobs swished a contested 3 from the right wing and made an acrobatic driving layup on the following possession, sparking a 7-2 run that pulled the Scorpions to 40-33. Jacobs finished the third period with nine points as North trimmed its deficit to six heading into the final eight minutes.
North climbed to three points down, 48-45, following Brandon Weaver’s free throw with 4 minutes, 31 seconds remaining, but that was as close as the Scorpions got. West Brunswick’s O.J. Hill scored all five of his points in the game’s final four-and-a-half minutes as the Trojans overcame poor free throw shooting in the fourth to hang on for a 60-52 victory.
The Trojans made six foul shots on 13 attempts down the stretch. Hill, one of the league’s top free throw shooters, uncharacteristically made three foul shots on eight attempts. Despite its woes from the charity stripe late in the game, West held a decisive advantage in that department over four quarters. West finished 15-for-26 at the line; North made seven free throws in 17 attempts, four-of-11 in the fourth.
After being limited to six points in the first half, Jacobs poured in 14 in the final 16 minutes to lead all scorers with 20. Sloan (13 points) was the only other Scorpion to reach double figures. Weaver finished with six and Terrence Brown and Tre’ Graham chipped in four apiece. Jaeden Phillips (three) and Jabril Robinson (two) were the other scorers for North.
The Trojans had six players scored at least six points. Cheers rebounded after a sluggish start, scoring 10 second-half points to finish with a team-high 12. Ash and Phillip Gause each netted 10. McNeil produced a solid effort in the paint, scoring eight points, six of which came on putbacks following offensive rebounds. Jones had seven points and Johnson contributed six for West. Zaire Hankins, who scored the game’s first basket, finished with two.
Davis said his team was in good position to compete for a conference championship following its second road win in league play. West last won a conference championship in 1989.
“Our goal is to win a (conference) championship,” he said. “Our league is very balanced and we’re right there in the mix. Championship teams have to be really good defensively. That’s what we’re trying to become.”
The West Brunswick junior varsity lost 62-40 at North Brunswick, West’s first conference loss this season.
For West, Chase Hill scored 13 points. No one else scored more than six points.
For North, Jerry Andrews scored 17 points, Chris Graham 15 and Shelton Perkins 13.