D.H. Conley’s boys basketball team has used its considerable size, skill and talent to win 16 games, including nine in the Eastern Carolina 3A/4A Conference this season.
But they were no match for South Central on Thursday night.
The Falcons made it look easy, disposing of the Vikings 68-43 to finish their regular season 12-0 in the conference and 21-1 overall.
“You never expect to go undefeated,” South Central coach Chris Cherry said of his team’s conference record. “We always tell them to improve and get better each and every day.”
South Central’s girls composed themselves down the stretch to beat D.H. Conley 44-35.
Kinnedy Lawrence paced the Falcons with 17 points and 13 rebounds.The teams will get ready for the Eastern Carolina Conference tournament starting next week.
South Central has held opponents to less than 30 points in six games, and 40 points or less in 14 contests. One of those games was a 46-36 victory over D.H. Conley on Jan. 13.
While the Vikings fared better Thursday, it was still no contest by the end of the third quarter.
“I thought we gave up two or three 3-point shots late in the second quarter that really kept them in the game, but I thought we were really good defensively,” Cherry said. “Not just in the press, but in halfcourt. ... I thought we just smothered them.”
D.H. Conley (16-6, 9-3) trailed by just seven at intermission, but the Falcons clamped down on defense and crashed the boards to put the game away in the third quarter. Luke Davis finished the period by catching a teammate’s shot that fell short and laying it into the basket as the buzzer sounded for a 48-32 advantage.
“You have to play under control,” Conley coach Rob Maloney said. “South Central does a really good job of making you play uptempo. We’re not built to play fast like that, and they did a good job of making us play fast. ... I can’t sugarcoat it: They posed a challenge and we didn’t answer the call.”
Sykeim Phillips paced South Central with 14 points, while Day’ron Sharpe and Tremadja Williams chipped in 12 and 10, respectively. Shykeef Daniels was the only players in double figures for Conley, finishing with 11 points.
In addition to the suffocating defense, South Central can shoot, as it drained nine 3-pointers. South Central knocked down perimeter shots against Conley’s 2-3 zone, and beat the Vikings off the dribble in possessions against man-to-man defense.
South Central’s only loss of the season was against New Hanover, a 64-52 setback in the Leon Brogden Tournament. The Falcons have since strung together 11 consecutive wins.
“We’re growing up,” Cherry said.
The win gave the Falcons their first conference title since 2014.
But South Central (13-8, 11-1) had to pull it out in the last four minutes. The game was knotted at 29 with 4:25 to play as Mackenna Batts sank two free throws for Conley.
But a driving layup by Anna Mewborn, a jump shot by Ninevah Reddick, and a putback by Lawrence following misses by two teammates gave the Falcons the lead for good.
“I thought we showed composure down the stretch,” Falcons coach Robert Duck said.
D.H. Conley (13-11, 7-5 ECC) lost their composure.
“We got rattled a little bit down the stretch,“ Vikings coach Samein Jones said. “They feed off your losing composure, and that’s what energized them to get back in the game.”
Batts finished with 17 points and three steals for Conley. Twanasja Hill had 11 points for South Central. But it was Lawrence’s play on both ends of the floor that keyed the Falcons.
“That’s what she does,” Duck said. “She’s got to be that big body on the defensive end of the floor, and I told her she’s the exclamation point by boxing out and rebounding.”
South Central overcame 19 turnovers, including five in the game’s first five minutes.
“We were so daggone tight,” Duck said. “We were turning that ball over left and right. But I told them to keep playing defense. We’re going to settle into this game.”