With the game on the line Leesville Road head coach Russ Frazier trusted his guys to make winning plays.
That’s exactly what senior center RJ Wilson did. With some help from teammate Deon Daniels, Wilson and company came up with two big defensive stops late in the game against Broughton, leading the Pride to a 62-59 win in the Cap-7 title game.
Leesville, who upset previously unbeaten Millbrook in the semifinals, have now won six games in a row, their last loss coming against the Capitals on Feb. 5. With the playoffs around the corner, the Pride are peaking at the right time.
“Our pain taught us lessons,” Frazier said. “When everyone else stepped on us, we stepped on the gas and worked harder.”
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Leesville Road (15-12) was 0-4 against Broughton and Millbrook in the regular season, but went through both teams to win the league tournament and Frazier wouldn’t have it any other way.
“The toughest roads leads to the most beautiful destinations,” Frazier said.
The next destination for the Pride is the NCHSAA playoffs. But they had to take care of business first against the Caps on their home floor. Leading by one, 60-59, with 50.2 showing on the clock, Leesville came up with not one, but two defensive stops. Broughton had the ball and the momentum after a 3 from Cap-7 Player of the Year DJ Thomas, and a free throw from Tynias Peace.
A Pride turnover gave the ball back to Broughton (18-9) and Peace spun to the basket for what looked like an easy layup. That’s when Wilson used all of his 6-7 frame to leap across the lane and block the attempt from Peace. Leesville didn’t convert that play into points, but they weren’t done on the defensive end. The Caps got the ball back with 19 seconds left and Thomas attempted to drive to the lane. Daniels was able to get a hand on the ball, and Wilson came up with the basketball. Wilson then passed ahead to Daniels who scored the game-clinching layup.
Wilson knew his team, who had suddenly gone cold from the floor, needed those defensive stops to win.
“They were big,” Wilson said. “Our main goal was to get a stop, not foul and play solid defense. I was just trying to go straight up and try to make him miss.”
The game was called tightly in the second half, but Wilson didn’t think twice about challenging the shot with the Cap-7 title on the line.
“I wasn’t going to let it affect my game and how I play,” Wilson said. “I’m going to let the refs do their job and just play basketball.”
Moments later the ball ended up in Wilson’s hands after Daniels deflected it from Thomas. Wilson gambled, leaving his man to help on Thomas. It was high reward for the risk as it led to the layup from Daniels to ice the game.
“It was a gamble,” Wilson admitted, “but I knew if I got that steal it would be a big momentum shift for our team. Obviously it helped and we got the win.”
Because Wilson has played on the varsity since his freshman season he’s seen it all. He’s played in the big games and isn’t in awe of that stage. Being the most experience player on the roster, Frazier is OK with Wilson taking chances. More times than not it pays off.
“He’s been there,” Frazier said. “That experience that he has hammered that home for us tonight. Whatever it takes to win, and he made a winning play.”
Peace led all scorers with 23 points. Penn Sealey added 16 and Thomas finished with 14 for Broughton. Carter Whitt and Wilson each scored 18 for Leesville, while Daniels added 16, in a game that never saw the lead get bigger than two points in the first quarter.
Whitt, an N.C. State recruit with Wolfpack head coach Kevin Keatts watching from the corner, scored 11 in a row in the second to give the Pride a 34-28 lead. But Broughton cut it to three on three separate occasions in the final minutes.
The Caps started the third quarter cold, hitting just two shots from the field in the first six minutes. Broughton would only hit three shots from the floor total in the third, but were still in the game, trailing by five, 49-44, heading into the fourth.
Peace hit a three to start the fourth, pulling the Caps to within two, 49-47. Leesville Road answered with a triple from senior Jaron Van Hoosier, and Broughton missed three in a row before getting a pair of free throws from Peace. The Caps scored on four straight possessions, but still trailed by three. Leesville would come up empty on four consecutive trips down the floor, and a three from Thomas made it a one-point game, 60-58, with 2:12 remaining. Only three more points would be scored in the rest of the way, but two stops by the Pride would be the difference in the game.
“It was a clutch play,” Wilson said. “A gamble, but worth it.”
Now Leesville Road will wait for the NCHSAA playoff brackets to be released. Tournaments, on any level, is all about guard play, and Frazier has one of the best in Whitt. It also helps that the Pride have hit their stride at the right time, leaving the coach with a message to the rest of the field.
“I think we are going to be a tough out,” Frazier said. “Keep in mind they are little kids, but we are on the way. The mistakes are still going to be there, but we are coming and we are coming fast. We might come a little sooner than everyone expected.”