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By Sam Hickman
The West Brunswick varsity boys’ basketball team overcame a sluggish start offensively and rallied for a 57-47 victory over intracounty rival South Brunswick Jan. 18 in Shallotte.
West’s fourth-year head coach Eric Davis said he was pleased with the way his squad defended, especially early when points were hard to come by.
“I thought we played really well defensively,” he said. “That’s where our focus has been. We missed a lot of shots early…defense kept us in the game. We’re going to keep focusing on the defensive end.”
West (7-7, 4-2), which played in front of a near-capacity crowd, mustered only one field goal in the first quarter and watched as South (2-11, 0-4) built an early six-point advantage in the Waccamaw 2A/3A Conference showdown.
After Trojan guard Markel Jones made a pair of free throws to open the game’s scoring, a stingy South Brunswick defense held West scoreless for more than four minutes.
South’s Blaine Tucker knocked down a 3 and a midrange jumper in a spurt that put the visitors ahead 7-2. Dylan Mosely pushed the Cougars’ lead to six with a 3 late in the opening period. West Brunswick’s Gray Cheers trimmed the Trojan lead to four in the final seconds of the frame with a pair of free throws.
South extended its lead on the first possession of the second quarter as Michael Moss drained a 3 from long range.
Following a difficult first quarter, Cheers, the Trojans’ leading scorer, settled into a rhythm offensively and guided West on a 9-0 run. Cheers made a 3 and an off-balance jumper on consecutive possessions before his teammate Zaire Hankins capped the spurt with back-to-back baskets, lifting West to a 15-13 lead.
The Cougars regained the lead, 18-17, briefly behind a 3 from Tucker and Khalin Clemmons’ running jumper.
Late in the second quarter, South broke a 19-all tie as Tucker buried his third and final long-range shot of the half. The southpaw finished the first half with 11 points.
Trailing by three, the Trojans ended the half on a balanced 12-2 run that ignited the home crowd before intermission. Hill, Jones, Cheers, Jawon McNeil and Tony Clarida each contributed during the span as West built a seven-point lead, 31-24, as the team’s headed into the locker rooms.
The Cougars trimmed their deficit to 35-31 early in the third period behind consecutive baskets from guard Monsarius Walls.
The Trojans answered with an 8-0 run, which was highlighted with a one-handed dunk by Phil Gause after West forced a turnover in South’s backcourt.
West seized its biggest lead of the contest at the end of the third period as Cheers was fouled on a three-point attempt. The sophomore made all three attempts as the Trojans took a 46-33 lead heading into the final period.
The Cougars clawed their way back into the game in the early stages of the fourth and eventually trimmed the deficit to five with fewer than three minutes remaining.
However, that’s as close as South got as O.J. Hill made five-of-six free throw attempts down the stretch to preserve the victory for West Brunswick.
Davis said Hill has played a huge role in West’s ability to close games lately, something the Trojans have struggled with at times this season. Hill entered Friday’s game shooting 86 percent from the foul line.
Cheers was the game’s leading scorer with 18 points and his fellow backcourt-mate Hill finished with 13, including nine-for-10 from the charity stripe.
Jones and Hankins each finished with six points. Gause, McNeil and Quentin Ash each contributed four.
Tucker paced the Cougars with 11 points. Clemmons, Mosely and Walls each poured in nine. Caleb Stanley (four), Moss (three) and James Prince (two) rounded out the scoring for South.
Davis remarked that while the Trojans were much improved on the defensive end, they had to maintain concentration.
“I’m proud of the way our guys locked in defensively,” he finished. “We have to keep working at getting better. (Defense) is how we are going to win ballgames.”