- Last Updated on 08:02 AM 01/28/13
- BY Doug Ford
A driving layup by Jakye Dabbs with 1:17 left gave his team the lead for good, and the Halifax County Middle School basketball team rallied to defeat Russell Middle School 36-30 at home Thursday.
The winner-take-all contest clinched the Southside Middle School Conference title for Halifax County and with it the top seed in the upcoming conference tournament.
The East Division champion Lions take on the West Division four seed at home Wednesday in the tourney quarterfinals.
James Smith Jr. led the Lions with 17 points, including a 3-pointer at the buzzer to end the third quarter that gave the Lions a 24-22 lead, its first since the final minute of the opening period.
Dabbs added eight points, and he and Smith each canned both ends of one-and-one opportunities in the final minute of the game to keep Russell at bay.
Tylik Powell added five points, including a 3-pointer for the first points of the game, and Zion Bailey added four points, including a steal and bucket that gave the Lions a three-point lead with less than a minute remaining.
Stephan Chandler added a basket for the Lions (11-2, 7-1 SMSC), who trailed 10-5 after one quarter and trailed by as much as 18-9 before trimming the deficit to 20-17 at halftime.
“They jumped on us early,” said Lions Head Coach W.J. Long.
“They had a big guy (Tyren Clark) that was killing us on the boards and getting putback after putback.
“We made some defensive adjustments, and we clawed our way back into the game to make it a three-point game at half.”
The coaching staff’s message at halftime was play defense and keep Russell away from easy shots in the lane, according to Long.
“We just needed somebody to step up and keep him (Clark) from grabbing so many offensive boards, and Justin made some adjustments on offense as well,” explained Long
“Basically our message was that if we played defense as hard as we could and keep them from getting easy shots in the paint, we could win the game.”
Smith scored five third-quarter points and Powell added a pair of free throws, and the Lions held Russell to one Clark field goal while rallying to take the lead entering the final quarter, but Russell fought back and led 29-26 after two Clark free throws with 3:20 remaining in the game.
From that point on, the Lions outscored Russell 10-1 to claim the win.
A supreme defensive effort in the second half paved the way to the conference title, according to Long.
Clark scored 12 points for Russell, with nine coming before halftime, and S. Alexander added nine, six before intermission.
“We always preach that defense will win many, many games and it did tonight,” Long said.
“Also, we hit free throws coming down the stretch, which was huge in such a tight game.
The Lions were 4-5 at the line in the fourth quarter, and they were 9-10 from the charity stripe for the game, its best free throw percentage of the season.
“I’m very proud of the boys for giving us all they had in such a big game, and the win gives us momentum going into the tournament,” Long added.
The Lions put themselves in position to clinch the conference title with a tougher than expected 39-26 win at Bluestone Middle School on Wednesday.
Dabbs scored a season-high 18 points for Halifax County, 14 in the second half, while Smith added seven and Powell five points.
Chandler added four points, Ford Morrison and Bailey two points each, and Shelquan Edmonds one point at the foul line, where the Lions were 6-10 as a team.
Taylor Mack led Bluestone with 11 points, and Aatwan Coleman added five points.
The Lions led only 10-6 after one quarter and led 17-12 at halftime, before Dabbs scored six points in a 10-7 run in the third quarter that gave his team a little breathing room.
Dabbs added eight fourth-quarter points in a 12-7 run for the Lions, but Mack added seven for the Trojans to keep them in the game until the late stages.
“We played hard, and defense was pretty good, but we didn’t rebound well and were awful from the field, missing many, many close shots,” said Long.
The Lions played a variety of defenses, starting out in three-quarter court zone trap then before going to a full-court man, then pack line man defenses, according to Long, before going to a 1-1-2-1 half court trap.
“We got several turnovers but didn’t get many quick baskets because we missed layups,” Long added.