Southern Durham boys basketball coach Kendrick Hall spoke at length and with passion in the Spartans’ postgame locker room. It was hard for him to let go of the season and his players.
The Big 8 3A champions’ postseason run came to an end in the fourth round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A state playoffs. The Spartans lost 86-82 to top-seeded Eastern Alamance of Mebane on Tuesday night before 1,500 fans in the neutral-site gym at Williams High.
“This is the happiest I’ve been in coaching,” Hall said. “I’ve been coaching 13 years – only the last five at Southern – but I can’t find words to express how much I enjoyed coaching this group of guys.
“We’ll definitely be back. This will make us work harder. I’m not happy about the result, but I’m happy to say I’m their coach. We had fun together on and off the court. They’re hurting now, but this will make them hungry.”
The fifth-seeded Spartans (22-4) lose only two seniors off their young squad. JuJuan Whitted, a 6-foot-3 senior guard-forward, finished with 17 points.
Sophomore guards Jomaru Brown and Antonio Daye Jr. scored 24 points each and junior guard J’Tori Christmas added 11. Two other returning starters are 6-3 junior Rashad Dixon (four points) and 6-7 junior Tyriq Burrus (two points).
Southern applied full-court pressure defense to force turnovers and outscore Eastern Alamance in the second quarter 24-19 to take a 38-36 halftime lead. Many teams would have caved in under the pressure the Spartans were forced, but Eastern Alamance is a playoff veteran team that won for the 29th time in 30 games this season.
“They’ve been here (deep in the playoffs) more than one time,” Hall said. “After you been here you know what it takes to finish games. I thought we lacked that (experience) in stretches. But for the most part I’m proud of these guys. Jujuan played his heart out in his last game as a senior.”
Eastern Alamance handled the ball the press better in the second half and took advantage of some opportunities to go over the press. The Eagles scored 50 points in the second half – 26 in the third quarter and 24 in the fourth to overcome Southern’s 44-point second half.
Eastern Alamance not only had five players in double figures, four of them scored in every quarter, including senior Rashad Reed with 17 off the bench and seven in the fourth quarter. Jacob Mann led the Eagles with 19 points.
The turning point was a timeout called by Eastern Alamance after the Spartans tied the game 68-68 on an 11-4 run to start the fourth period. The Eagles scored out of the timeout as part of an 8-0 run. Southern never led again, although the Spartans got the deficit down to 75-73 with 2:24 to play.
“It was a roller coaster ride with runs from both teams,” Hall said. “I thought both teams played hard. I thought our team didn’t give up. We played right down to the last shot.”