Rashad Dixon pumped in a game-high 14 points and punctuated his output with a slam dunk in the fourth period, and defending Big 8 champs Southern cruised past Cedar Ridge 68-54 to set up a big rematch against conference leading Orange on Friday night.
The Spartans have one conference loss, to Orange, which is unbeaten in the Big 8.
“I’d love to play them again, and we get that chance Friday, but it’s not that I put so much into one game. That game is just a stepping stone to being a better team,” said Southern coach Kendrick Hall. “Orange and Southern have been the two top teams in the Big 8 the past four years or so,” Hall said. “Of course it’s an intense game … but I don’t get caught up too much into the whole rivalry thing. I get caught up in making sure we get back on defense and stop reaching.”
He said he is not planning anything special for the Panthers.
“I just think we need to focus more, be disciplined on defense, don’t reach, box out, the basic things” that they got away from in their last game against Orange when they lost the lead in the waning minutes of the game, Hall said.
Hall, whose philosophy has been even distribution among his players, got that Tuesday night. Among Southern’s other players with double-digit scoring were Jomaru Brown with 13, and Antonio Daye Jr. and Tyriq Burrus with a dozen each. Leading scorers for Cedar Ridge were B.J. Freeman with 13, and Colby Cashaw and Dmonte Kinney with 11 each.
“Tonight we executed what we wanted to execute the way we were allowed to do it. But every night is not going to be a highlight reel night” with a gigantic scoring margin, Hall said “We were having good defensive stops, knocking down free throws, and putting layups in.”
The game started out at fever pitch as the teams battled back and forth for command of the court. Prior to Brown hitting a pair of free throws at 6:42 of the second period, there had been four ties, with Southern having held the lead four times and Cedar Ridge three times.
But the Spartans never looked back after Brown gave them that early second period lead, and twice in the third period led by 20 points when Rashad Dixon nailed a slam dunk at 2:29, and Darius Robinson sank a pair of free throws at 1:28.
In the girls’ game Southern dumped the Red Wolves 53-21.
“This is a young group. They’re really learning. They’re growing really fast,” said Spartans coach Teddy McKoy. “If anybody’s going to beat us, they’ve got to beat us early.”
Although Cedar Ridge looked better on paper, McKoy said his team’s record reflected a tough nonconference schedule against teams like Hillside, Rocky Mount and Millbrook.
“I think that set the young girls back a bit. That was throwing a lot at them early in the season,” he said.
“One thing I knew we had coming in was defense,” and that was the key to the win, McKoy said. Offensively, “We moved the ball a lot more. We were not relying so much on J-naya Ephraim. I told them we cannot do that.”
Amore Resto and Jonisha McDaniel each had 11points for Southern. Grace Davies and Madison Wardlow led Cedar Ridge with six points each.