LUMBERTON — Matt Hill is starting to notice a disturbing trend with the Lumberton boys basketball team.
“We’re having problems with slow starts,” the Pirates’ head coach said. “With weaker teams, you can overcome those things. But if it’s a very good team — a team that everybody’s picking to be in the top of the conference — you’re going to use so much energy to fight back that it’s really hard to get over that hump at the end.”
On Tuesday against Hoke County, the reigning league champion, Lumberton’s slow start was too much to overcome as the Bucks earned a 68-63 victory to open Sandhills Athletic Conference play.
The Pirates (3-4, 0-1 SAC) trailed by as many as 16 points in the second half before using a late rally to make the game interesting. But it was a 21-point first quarter by the Bucks (6-1, 1-0) that put Lumberton in a bind.
Dakari Johnson scored 18 of his 24 points in the first half, including five 3-pointers to help Hoke carry a 38-28 lead into the break.
Lumberton cut the lead to seven points midway through the third period and the Bucks responded with a 14-5 run that extended into the fourth quarter to take a 16-point lead at 55-39.
That’s when Steph Lloyd, who scored a team-best 24 points, and Jordan McNeill, who logged 17 points, helped the Pirates rally with a 24-point blitz in the final eight minutes, using a 16-5 run to trim the deficit to five points with 56 seconds to play.
“I thought we did a good job fighting back,” Hill said. “I was very proud of the guys for fighting back, it was a whole bench effort. Size really hurt us offensively because we’d get it too far under the basket. Some were fouls, but a lot of them were just nowhere to go.”
Lloyd made a layup with nine seconds left to trim the lead to four points, but Elijah Davis-Harris and UNCP signee Silas Love kept Lumberton at bay with some clutch free throws to seal the victory for Hoke. Lloyd drained a 3-pointer as time expired for the final tally.
“I thought we played our best defensive game all year,” Hill said. “We still had a few breakdowns, but you can’t ask for much better than that.
“That’s the No. 1 team in the conference. We’re not a bad team. That’s what I told the guys when we were in (the locker room).”
Davis-Harris tallied 16 points for the Bucks and Love finished with 14 points, seven rebounds and four blocks.
Lacy Mitchell added 10 for Lumberton, which returns to action on Friday at home against Jack Britt.
Lady Pirates run away from Hoke
Lumberton coach Danny Graham saw some good and some bad in the Lady Pirates’ 69-44 win over Hoke on Tuesday to open Sandhills Athletic Conference play.
The good: The Lady Pirates’ transition offense.
The bad: The Lady Pirates’ half-court offense.
“Our transition (offense), which is the best thing we do, was really good,” Graham said. “Our half-court offense has a long way to go.”
Behind a game-high 34 points from London Thompson, including 24 in the first half, the Lady Pirates (6-1, 1-0 SAC) sprinted out to a 42-16 lead to put the game out of reach.
Thompson pulled down 10 rebounds to finish with a double-double and logged six steals to go with five assists.
Madison Canady also logged a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Lady Pirates, who were outscored 28-27 in the second half by the Lady Bucks (2-4, 0-1).
“I thought we played hard, especially in the first half,” Graham said. “I thought we played really well in the first half. I did not think we played well in the third quarter, but we got a little better in the fourth quarter.”
Mahogany Matthews, the reigning league player of the year, finished with 29 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks and three assists for Hoke.
Rachel O’Neil added nine points, four assists and three steals for Lumberton, which is 20-1 in conference play over the past two seasons.
“I’m looking ahead at the big picture,” Graham said. “I thought our young kids came in and did a good job. We’ve got to get better at running stuff. That’s going to be the key to our season.”
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.