It’s something Hoke County basketball coach Quame Patterson has watched unfold throughout this season during his team’s march to an unbeaten run through the Southeastern Conference.
Single-digit leads have widened to insurmountable deficits for the opposition in a matter of minutes thanks to a senior-laden core led by reigning conference player of the year Tarique Thompson.
So why would Hoke’s return to the floor, this time in an SEC Tournament semifinal against Lumberton, be any different?
Fueled by a 14-0 run midway through the first half that deflated the Pirates’ method of attack, the Bucks won for the 23rd time in 25 games Wednesday night with a 106-69 victory, marking their seventh consecutive win over a rival from a neighboring county.
“We’re flowing together as a team and that’s what you want you want to see before the playoffs start,” Patterson said. “Some of the other top teams may have peaked early in the season, but it looks like we’re saving our best basketball for down the stretch.”
The Bucks had their way in transition, scored in bunches off turnovers and hit 13-of-24 3-pointers to pull away early in a contest opposite of last year’s highly-competitive tournament championship game against the Pirates (10-15).
The state’s sixth-ranked team went ahead 47-24 with 1:13 left in the first half following a three-point play on a fastbreak from Thompson and the rout was on. Thompson led six players in double digits for Hoke with 27 points.
“They have a great team, there’s no doubt about it,” Lumberton coach Mackie Register said. “We went in here with a nothing to lose mentality. We tried something different defensively, tried to make them shoot it from the outside instead of letting them attack us in the post. They shot it well and they beat us.”
Lumberton guard Darius Floyd helped his team overcome a slew of ill-advised passes and poorly executed possessions in the first half with a handful of 3-pointers and kept the Pirates within striking distance on the road. Lumberton trailed by as many as 24 early in the third however before Jez Dees triggered an 8-0 with back-to-back hustle plays that pulled the Pirates within 16 at 65-49 with 1:58 left before the final frame.
The Bucks responded with six straight points and outscored Lumberton 41-20 the rest of the way.
The Pirates found few answers defensively for Hoke’s trio of guards and noticeable height advantage in the paint. Nearly half of the Bucks’ buckets down low came on second-chance opportunities and most shots from long range were uncontested.
“If I try to tell our players when to shoot and when not to, our offense wouldn’t work,” Patterson said. “Guys took shots tonight that they were comfortable taking and ones that came within the flow of the offense. When you have players like Tarique and Rashad (Parker) there to rebound, you don’t worry about taking a lot of 3-pointers.”
Hoke will host Richmond in the SEC Tournament Championship on Friday. With the regular season over, the Pirates will await their first-round 4A playoff matchup as the fourth-place team from the conference.
“I know it’s hard to think this after a 37-point loss, but I feel good about where we’re at,” Register said. “I think we’re flying under the radar a bit heading into the playoffs. I think we’re very capable of a first-round upset somewhere and it’s important for our players not to hang their heads after this game. There’s nothing to feel sorry about because Hoke has a good basketball team.”