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STANHOPE — The Southern Nash High varsity boys basketball team shook off visiting Hunt’s furious comeback bid in the third quarter and dominated the final eight minutes in recording a 68-56 victory in the 3-A Big East Conference opener for both teams Friday night.
Trailing 42-24 at halftime, the Warriors stormed to a 50-50 deadlock after three quarters and finally seized their only lead at 52-51 on 6-foot-4 Zion May’s basket with four minutes, 50 seconds remaining.
However, the Firebirds reclaimed the lead for keeps seconds later on senior Jaylen Lucas’ field goal and outscored the Warriors 15-4 the rest of the way.
Southern Nash upped its record to 9-6 behind a career-high 26 points from the 5-11 Lucas. Hunt, playing its first game of 2018 and for the first time since winning the Farris & Farris Holiday Tournament championship on Dec. 20, spilled to 4-9.
“That’s been us all season,” head coach Robbie Kennedy said of Southern Nash’s third-quarter meltdown. “We didn’t make good decisions and missed a lot of layups. Hunt hit some tough shots. We just told (Firebirds players) that the score is 0-0 and we’ve got to win the court.”
Southern Nash slowed what had been a frenzied tempo in the final quarter. After Lucas’ basket forged the Firebirds out front, junior Zonovan Knight scored for a 55-52 edge with 4:03 left.
The next eight possessions wrecked Hunt. During those eight trips, the Warriors managed one field goal — by Javion Farmer, four turnovers, two missed free throws and two unfinished drives. The Warriors paid a tremendous toll for their 18 turnovers — many prompted by reckless ball-handling. Hunt also embarrassed itself on three unsuccessful dunk attempts before 6-5 senior Jeremiah Ganaway finally succeeded.
With Hunt struggling, the Firebirds paraded to the foul line and got efficient work from senior Corey Foster, Lucas and senior Tyler Wilson. Southern Nash converted 23 of 33 free throws as compared to 11 of 27 for the Warriors.
“We really focused on coming back and staying energetic,” Lucas described Southern Nash’s final quarter. “We wanted to play defense the best we can. There was a little bit of panicking and we got caught up in the moment. But we played through it and focused on playing hard like we did the first half. We played defense really good and rebounded really good.”
Knight added 11 points for Southern Nash.
Hunt was boosted by another sensational second half from Jameson Lucas, the boys MVP in the Farris & Farris Tournament. He wound up with 17 points while May bucketed 12 and Farmer 11. May was about Hunt’s only scoring and rebounding weapon the first half.
Southern Nash bolted to a 20-10 first-quarter lead behind 10 points from Jaylen Lucas and six from Knight. Hunt displayed the effects of the three-week layoff. The Firebirds blistered the nets in the second quarter, with Wilson nailing a pair of 3-point shots and Jaylen Lucas and senior Tavaris Brown one each. Brown’s 3-pointer staked Southern Nash to a 37-16 cushion.
But the Warriors capitalized on their size advantage in their zone press in the third quarter and came tearing back behind 14 points in the quarter from Jameson Lucas. C.J. Ward finally found the range at the foul line and produced a 50-50 tie with a pair of free throws.
“We made a great comeback,” Hunt head coach Wayne Hardy declared, “but we dug ourselves too big of a hole. But when we got the lead, some thought the game was already over. It wasn’t over. And when the game was on the line, we didn’t have a whole lot left.”
Wade, Taylor 7, Ganaway 6, Farmer 11, May 12, Thomas, Rasberry, Ward 3, Lucas 17.
SOUTHERN NASH (68)
Townes 1, Wilson 10, Allen 4, Foster 8, Knight 11, Bell, Dellavlle, Lucas 26, Perry, Brown 6, Thompson, Edmundson 2.
Score by quarters:
Hunt 10 14 26 6 — 56
Southern Nash 20 22 8 18 — 68