Leesville Road’s recipe to reaching the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A boys basketball championship game, winning five straight games against higher seeds, was hard to beat.
Against teams that applied a lot of pressure, the Pride took care of the ball. Against taller teams, it used a all-hands-on-deck approach to rebounding. Against teams with great athleticism, it kept them out of the lane.
But in Saturday’s title game, the Pride was missing its key ingredients.
Southwest Guilford reversed what had worked so well for Leesville Road and won 73-49 at Reynolds Coliseum.
“We just did not have it today. I don’t want to call it stage fright, they just played better than us,” Leesville coach Russ Frazier said. “I think we had communication breakdowns the whole game.”
Southwest (28-3) got to the rim with regularity, scoring 44 points in the paint (Leesville had 20). The Cowboys controlled the offensive glass – turning 14 offensive rebounds into 19 second-chance points. It forced Leesville Road (22-10) to turn the ball over 17 times for 28 points off turnovers.
“I think the initial pressure didn’t get us. I think their defensive recovery got us,” Frazier said. “There was no ‘OK, we beat (the pressure), calm down, let’s play basketball.’ We had to have a sense of urgency the whole time.”
The Pride trailed just 19-18 at the end of the first quarter, but the Cowboys led 41-29 at halftime thanks to 11 forced turnovers and nine offensive rebounds.
Southwest Guilford outscored Leesville 22-11 in both the second and third quarters to lead 63-40 going into the fourth quarter. Leesville could get no closer than 16 after that.
Leesville Road’s Jalen Benjamin was named Most Outstanding Player for the East. He had 18 points to lead all scorers. He was 3-of-5 from 3-point range and 7-of-7 at the free-throw line.
Jonathan Mebane had 11, and Alex Hunter had nine in the final games of their high school careers. Hunter, a Furman recruit, ends his career as Leesville’s all-time leading scorer while Mebane was close behind in second.
“This whole week was just amazing with all the Leesville community backing you up,” Mebane said. “It’s been really cool. I’m glad I experienced this.”
Leesville was making its second appearance in the championship game after finishing runner-up in 2001.
“The whole run was amazing,” Hunter said. “Having the Leesville community, they were great, and it was just an honor playing for them.”
Southwest’s Kam Langley (14 points) was named overall MVP and his brother Keyshaun (15 points) was Most Outstanding Player for the West. Kobe Langley had 10 points to round out the trio of brothers. Christian Martin added 14 points.