FUQUAY-VARINA — It has been a tough season for the Fuquay-Varina boys’ basketball team, you’d never have known it watching them play in the final minutes of a Tri-9 Conference game against visiting Lee County.
The Bengals trailed by as many as 14 points midway through the period, but continued to exert themselves on every possession.
D.J. Lee tried to break Lee County trap, D.J. Burt buried clutch 3-pointers, Michael Verian and Dedric Byrd hustled for loose balls and senior forward Jake Hartzell battled post and give his team a chance.
But Lee held on for a 54-49 victory, knocking down nine free throws in the final two minutes to thwart the feisty Bengal rally.
Lee (10-8, 7-3) remained tied for third place in the conference with Panther Creek, and will host conference leader Middle Creek on Friday.
Burt led the Bengals (1-15, 1-9) with 19 points, while Verian chipped in 10 and Byrd added nine. Fuquay scored 20 points in the first three periods and then erupted for 29 in the final quarter.
“Lee had that run in the fourth which put us in a hole,” said Fuquay head coach Randy Barrow. “I’m so proud of our kids though, they didn’t give up and kept battling.
“I’ve got to applaud the effort of our big guy Jake Hartzell, he’s our heart and soul and makes sure all our guys know where they need to be on the floor.”
Barrow said Fuquay-Varina had played Lee fairly well the first time the two teams met, and the Bengals opened the game looking to control the tempo and slow the game down. Fuquay passed the ball well and limited Lee’s transition baskets, playing a zone defense that forced the Yellow Jackets into some tough shots.
The strategy worked, with F-V up 6-3 after the first quarter and Lee ahead just 16-13 at intermission.
Lee senior Dante Graham (21 points) and Dewaun McEachin (14) got to run some in the first three quarters, but early in the fourth the duo, along with Jason Payne, took control of the game by forcing Bengal turnovers and turning them into easy fast break buckets, including a thunderous dunk by Payne.
The Yellow Jackets led 28-22 early in the fourth but went on a 13-5 run to seize control.
“We were stalled early, but in the second quarter we got our halfcourt trap going,” said Lee head coach Reggie Peace. “The spurt in the fourth allowed us some breathing room and then Dante (Graham) stepped up big for us with those free throws at the end.”