SNOW HILL — St. Pauls coach Corey Thompson knew his team would need to put together a complete game in order to win at Greene Central on Thursday night in the second round of the NCHSAA 2A state playoffs.
For 14 minutes, the Bulldogs looked as good as they had at any point during the 2016-17 season. But Greene Central came out ready for the full 32-minute ride, overpowering St. Pauls in an 83-55 marathon.
“That’s kind of been the story of our season,” Thompson said. “We haven’t been able to put a whole game together. But I thought our guys competed and battled back.”
Trailing by as many as 28 points to the top-seeded Rams (24-1), the Bulldogs (19-7) trimmed the deficit to eight points early in the fourth quarter. But Greene Central closed the game with a 30-10 run over the final seven minutes to balloon the lead back out for the final margin.
“It’s refreshing because you know your guys are going to compete until the bitter end,” Thompson said of his team’s effort. “That’s something we can build on for next year. Guys competed. All of our seniors competed until the end.”
But like it had in most of its losses this season, St. Pauls came out of the gate slow. Don Pigford and Imajae Dodd threw down a pair of dunks each in the opening quarter as Greene Central sprinted out to an early 16-5 lead.
“We knew that the crowd is real involved in their games and we had to eliminate the dunks the best way we could,” Thompson said. “I think in the first two minutes they had two lob dunks and that got them going. They feed off of the crowd.”
Pigford and Dodd finished with 15 points each for the Rams along with Rhaheem Edwards. Don’Quez Davis had a game-high 19 points.
Trailing 39-20 at the half, the Bulldogs began their comeback in the third quarter, trimming the deficit to 12 points when Isaiah Harlee finished a putback dunk to beat the buzzer. The run continued into the final period as Harlee finished a lob from Cole Humphrey to cut the deficit to eight points, 53-45, with 7:13 remaining.
But the Rams scored six consecutive points — capped with a dunk by Pigford — to spark the final run and push the lead back out to double digits for the remainder of the game.
Humphrey finished with 18 points to lead the Bulldogs, with Aaron Revels adding 11 and J.J. Oxendine netting 10.
Reflecting on his first year as a high school basketball coach, Thompson said he’ll remember “this senior class and these kids battling for me.”
That class includes Harlee, Oxendine, Humphrey, Ted McNeill, Mike Barnes, Johnny Scott and D.J. McNair.
“It’s my first year as a head (high school basketball) coach and I was learning just like they were,” Thompson said. “One thing I always hung my hat on was: We may not have shot the ball well at times, but I knew our guys were always going to compete. That’s something we can build on to get better.”
Greene Central will host Kinston in Saturday’s third round.
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.