South Central’s basketball teams proved that defense really does win championships.
Defense keyed wins by the Falcons’ boys and girls Friday night in the final games of the Eastern Carolina 3A/4A Conference tournament at South Central.
South Central’s girls shut down J.H. Rose in a 74-27 romp, while the boys held off D.H. Conley 50-38.
“This program has always been built on defense first,” Falcons girls coach Robert Duck said. “Our defense is our best offense.”
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South Central’s boys (23-1) held their 16th opponent to 40 points or less this season.
“We didn’t play well offensively, but our defense has been a constant all year,” boys coach Chris Cherry said. “We’ve been borderline great defensively most of the year.”
South Central’s teams locked up the ECC’s No. 1 seeds, ensuring home games to open their N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A tournaments.
South Central (16-8) scored the game’s first eight points en route to an 11-1 lead two minutes after tipoff. The Falcons used defensive pressure and beat the Rampants down the floor for basket after basket to take a 24-6 lead after one period.
It got worse for Rose. Kentasia Street picked up her third foul less than three minutes into the game, and added a fourth with 4:47 to go in the first half, forcing Rampants coach Mark Johnson to sit his senior post player.
Kinnedy Lawrence, South Central’s junior post presence, took advantage with some quick baskets as the Falcons stretched the lead to 45-12 by intermission.
Any thoughts of a comeback by the Rampants were quickly extinguished as Al’myra Brown and Anna Mewborn had baskets in the first 30 seconds of the second half to extend the lead.
“Whatever I told them, we didn’t go out and do it, so I had to call a quick timeout,” Johnson said. “They just played better than us.”
With 5:35 remaining in the third quarter, South Central was leading 56-16, triggering a running clock.
“The girls were hungry and ready to play basketball on both ends of the floor,” Duck said. “We had some great energy on both ends of the floor. ... As cliché as it sounds, we’re peaking at the right time.”
South Central has won eight of its last nine games, while the Rampants (13-12) went into the contest having won nine of its last 10, including a 50-38 victory over the Falcons in January.
This was the fourth time these teams have met this season. Both finished the regular season with 11-1 records in the conference, and a win by J.H. Rose over South Central in the Pitt County Christmas Tournament was the tiebreaker to give the Rampants the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament.
Lawrence finished with 15 points and eight rebounds, while Ninevah Reddick also had 15 points for South Central. Mewborn added 10 points, while Brittany Gibbs chipped in nine, seven of those coming in the opening period.
Castar Braswell had six points to lead the Rampants, which finished with 17 turnovers, 12 of those in the first half.
“We came out there, and we weren’t prepared,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to move on. We’ve got to get back to work.”
D.H. Conley (18-7) was held off the scoreboard for the first 7:41 of the game, finally getting a layup by Jahmois Barnhill to trail only 6-2 after one period.
The game was a defensive staredown. Conley stayed in a 2-3 zone as coach Rob Maloney chose to make South Central settle for 3-point attempts rather than go man-to-man and watch his Vikings get repeatedly pierced by Falcons driving to the rim.
It worked fairly well aside from South Central’s Tahj Riddick hit three 3-pointers in the second quarter, allowing the Falcons to get ahead by double digits by halftime.
A driving layup by Shykeef Daniels helped Conley cut South Central’s lead to 26-19 with 4:43 to go in the third period, but a steal and subsequent layup by Day’ron Sharpe and another steal by Jahzeer Baker, who fed Xavier Boyd for a dunk, put the Falcons back ahead by double digits again.
“I thought when we came out in the third quarter, and got a little bit of momentum going and made it respectable,” Maloney said. “Then, suddenly, we quit blocking out.
“When you do that against an athletic team like South Central, they’re going to make you pay for it every time.”
Daniels cut the lead to single digits again in the waning seconds of the third, only to watch Sharpe’s putback push the lead back to 11.
While Conley never got within striking distance, the Vikings made South Central work much harder down the stretch than it did seven days ago, a 68-43 win by the Falcons which didn’t seem that close.
Sharpe paced South Central with 16 points – half of those coming on putbacks – six rebounds and a pair of steals. Riddick added 14 points and two steals. Daniels led Conley with 15 points.
The Vikings (18-7) finished with 20 turnovers against South Central’s suffocating defensive pressure as five different Falcons recorded blocked shots.
South Central, No. 3 in the N&O poll, has won 13 consecutive games since its lone setback of the season to New Hanover on Dec. 23.
“We feel confident in our ability, but at the same time, we’re cautiously optimistic,” Cherry said. “We’ve won a lot of games by big numbers, but we haven’t been tested a whole lot. Deep down, in the back of my mind, that’s what I’m really concerned about.”