In a game that was tight for three quarters, Southern Durham used a smothering defense in the fourth quarter to pull away from Chapel Hill 79-69 and take over second place in the Big 8 Conference with one game remaining.
Antonio Daye Jr., scored 31 points to lead Southern (14-7, 9-2), while Jomaru Brown added 22, as the Spartans won their fourth straight game, a string that began with a 74-46 win over the Tigers on Jan. 30.
“I knew it was going to be a tougher game because we beat them by a lot at home,” said Daye, who surpassed the 30-point plateau for the fifth time this season. “They played us a tough game but we kept fighting to the end.”
Southern coach Kendrick Hall said he too expected a tougher game this time from Chapel Hill because it was being played in the Tigers’ gym. And it was a closer game.
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“It was a big win for us,” Hall said. “This was for second place and they’ve been playing good basketball. They beat Orange so we knew it was going to be different. They executed better against us this time so I am proud of my team to win it down the stretch.”
Chapel Hill (12-10, 8-3) fell to third place in the conference.
With 4:52 left in the game, Chapel Hill went up 59-57 on a basket by Cory Jones. But from there, Southern went on a 10-0 run to seize control of the contest. The Tigers missed five shots and committed two of their 20 turnovers in that stretch. Chapel Hill managed only one basket the rest of the game and did all of its scoring from the free-throw line, hitting 10 of 10.
“I would have hoped for a better outcome,” said Chapel Hill coach Rodney Carter. “The guys played harder and it helped to have Max (Conolly) back and to have Cory back. We had a lot of bad turnovers down the stretch.
Southern was better in the fourth quarter, making 8 of 11 field goals in the final eight minutes and hitting 15 of 18 free throws. The Spartans hit both of their 3-point attempts in the fourth after going 1 of 14 through the first three periods.
Hall said their long-range shots came off better ball movement in the fourth quarter instead of the quick looks they settled for in the first three quarters.
Despite the turnovers, Chapel Hill stayed with Southern through three periods. Every time it appeared Southern would be able to run away with the game through that point, Chapel Hill managed to stay in the game.
Southern opened with a 7-0 spurt to start the game. Chapel Hill countered and chipped away until the Tigers took a 15-13 lead at the end of the quarter on a pair of made free throws by Jones, who was fouled shooting as time expired.
It was back-and-fourth in the second quarter until the final minute after Brown jammed home a dunk to give Southern a 29-27 lead. But the Tigers scored the final two buckets of the half — a 3 by Conolly and a fast-break layup by Elijah Haynes — to take a 32-29 lead into the intermission. Haynes finished with 22 to lead the Tigers.
In the third period, Chapel Hill cut down its turnovers and was able to build a six-point advantage when Kai White hit a 3 that made it 39-33 with 5:29 left in the quarter. Southern worked its way back into the game and trailed 47-46 at the end of the third as Darius Robinson scored his only basket with time running down.
Conolly hit a 3 and then finished off three-point play that gave the Tigers a 53-48 lead by Daye hit a 3 that cut the Tigers advantage to a bucket. He came back and tied the game with an offensive rebound and stickback with 6:09 to play.
Chapel Hill led only twice more in the game. First, White made a pair of free throws after a technical foul was called on the Southern bench that made it 57-55. And then on Jones’ driving layup that made it 59-57.
Southern leapfrogged into the lead for good on Brown’s 3 with four and a half minutes to play as they went up 60-59 and the Spartans never surrendered their advantage.