ST. PAULS — Even as the St. Pauls basketball team held onto a 13-point lead at halftime, Bulldog coach Travis Lemanski knew his team would have to hang on to beat visiting West Columbus.
“They’re known for their spurtability,” Lemanski said. “I’ve been coaching against them for a while and I know that to be up 15, 16 points against them isn’t a safe lead because they usually have great runs. I told those guys that at halftime.”
Much like he predicted, the Vikings (3-5, 0-3 Three Rivers Conference) tightened up defensively and attempted to take the lead multiple times, but St. Pauls never let it slip in a 64-61 win.
“Coach just told us to stick with it,” said Malik Livingston, who was the backbone of the St. Pauls offense with 26 points. “He told us they were going to go on a run and (it was about) how we would react to run.”
The Bulldogs (2-9, 1-2 TRC) bent but didn’t break.
The initial second-half push started with 6:28 left in the third quarter. West Columbus’ Eric Jenkins hit a layup to narrow St. Pauls’ lead to 36-26. Using steals and fastbreaks, it set up a 12-2 run that made it 38-36 St. Pauls with 4 minutes left.
“When they made that run, I waited about as long as I could before I burnt a time out and they got back within 2 at 38-36,” “I told them ‘That is the run I was talking about, now don’t tank up on me, let’s go and get our run.’”
But St. Pauls made the defensive adjustments, didn’t allow a point the rest of the quarter. A layup by Trenton Jacobs broke the run and Livingston hit a 3-pointer to open the scoring as the Bulldogs took a 45-36 lead heading into the fourth.
The lead got as high as 12 points in the final eight minutes, but West Columbus again chipped away.
Damien Brooks helped fend off the Vikings, scoring five of his six points in the final 2:10, which included three made free throws, including one with 18.1 seconds left.
On the inbounds, West Columbus got the ball to guard Anthony Davis, who banked in a 3-pointer from straight on that made it 63-61.
When St. Pauls got the ball back, the Bulldogs killed clock before Livingston was fouled with 1.8 seconds left. He hit a free-throw and missed the second, causing Davis get the rebound and miss on a desperation heave.
Davis finished with 17 points.
It was the first conference win of the year for St. Pauls, which had a tough early schedule against Fairmont and Whiteville. Lemanski looked at Friday’s game as key in getting back into the conference race.
“I told the boys that this one, coming back from Christmas break, is usually who wants it more,” Lemanski said. “I told them really to concentrate on winning all the 50-50 balls and all the hustle plays and we got a lot them.”
Bulldog girls shine defensively
St. Pauls girls basketball coach Mike White wasn’t always happy with his offense on Friday, but his team’s defense more than made up for it.
The Bulldogs allowed five points in the second and third quarters and led by as many as 29 points in a 52-26 win against West Columbus.
“I wanted us to play good defense,” White said. “It was the first game back from a long layoff and we wanted to focus on defense and let the defense set the tone for our offense and I think we did that.”
St. Pauls ran multiple defenses, which set the tone for a fastbreak-heavy offense.
Tia Glover set the tone for the Bulldogs, scoring 18, including all eight of her team’s points in the first-quarter. Alexus Roberson was the focal point in the second half, finishing with 13.
It continues an upward swing for the team, which started 0-6 in tough non-conference schedule, but has since improved to 5-7 with a 3-0 record in the Three Rivers Conference.
White said the key has been a more balanced and team-centric approach, including numerous girls who have led the team in scoring.
“We were getting a little too one-on-one conscious against the larger schools and trying to do too much one-on-one,” he said. “We’ve been playing a lot better team basketball.”