RED SPRINGS — Red Springs boys basketball coach Glenn Patterson gave his two senior guards the call on who wanted the ball in their hands with a chance to seal the win at home on Friday night.
South Robeson had just went up by one point with less than three seconds to go and had been assessed a technical foul. Monte’ Wilkerson and Caleel Mitchell huddled up to decide who wanted to take the two free throws to give Red Springs a chance.
The duo went with the hot hand in the second half, and Wilkerson stepped to the line for the pair with the raucous South Robeson crowd raising their voices to distract the senior guard, jumping up and down under the bucket. Those cheers and distractions went unnoticed by the cool-headed Red Devils.
“We had a couple turnovers at the end and it got a little emotional and I didn’t know if he wanted to shoot (the free throws) or not so I said, ‘if you don’t want to shoot them, I’ll take them,’” Wilkerson said after hitting the two technical free throws and securing the inbound pass to clinch the 66-65 Three Rivers Conference win.
“I was in the flow of the game and I had to do what I had to do step up. … I was calm at the line, even though it was real clutch free throws. I just tried to focus on the goal, and not on anybody.”
Red Springs (6-1, 5-0 TRC) looked like it was on the way to stretching the lead to three points with 10 seconds left as Isaac McQueen had a wide open look for a breakaway layup, but it clanked off the rim and South Robeson’s (2-4, 1-4 TRC) Jarias Davis took the miss the other way. The speedy senior guard did like he had done all night and drove to the rim, dished the ball off to forward Cameron Werrell for the layup with less than 3 seconds left to put the Mustangs up 65-64.
While the Mustangs’ bench and fans along the floor erupted after the bucket to go up, lost in scrum was Jaleel Lesane, who was assessed a technical foul for taunting to set up the foul-line trip for Wilkerson.
“(The referee) said that they were calling an unsportsmanlike on Jaleel after we made the go-ahead basket before time expired,” South Robeson coach Ryan Bullard said of the controversial call. “He said he was taunting when he was clapping after the basket.”
The loss was the third of the season for the Mustangs by two points or less.
“I don’t know if you ever get comfortable in those situations but to be in those games every time you can look back at the missed opportunities at the free-throw line and layups,” Bullard said. “We just have to execute better and maybe if we do that earlier we could have a better record right now.”
With four minutes to go, South Robeson mounted its comeback after Red Springs had built a nine-point lead with 4:15 on the clock after a Mitchell layup. The lead was chipped away by the porous defensive effort from the Red Devils late as Davis facilitated the offense off the drive.
“We tried to force things and not let things work for us, and that’s what put us in the situation,” Red Springs coach Glenn Patterson said. “We didn’t play the defense we were capable of playing tonight and I told them that. We were out of position and wasn’t helping but allowing him (Davis) a lane to the basket.”
Davis and Lesane scored 11 of the Mustangs’ 19 final points, including three treys to take a 63-61 lead with 47 seconds left. Davis finished with a team-high 14 points.
Wilkerson responded with an old-fashioned three-point play on the other end to put Red Springs up one with 30 seconds left. After halftime was when Wilkerson found his stride scoring the ball after the Mustangs picked the Red Devils up man-to-man. After the intermission, Wilkerson accounted for 17 of his game-high 23 points.
“I keep telling him he’s the general on the floor. He can’t let others make the decision,” Patterson said. “We had a six- or seven-point lead and we were still trying to force it.”
Patterson was not pleased with his defensive effort as a whole in the game, but in the third quarter his team showed flashes of the defense it wants to play as it held the Mustangs to five points in the third quarter to turn a five-point deficit to a nine-point lead heading to the fourth quarter. The Mustangs hit one shot from the field during that period, a Lesane 3-pointer with 35 seconds left.
“At the beginning of the third, we made adjustments at halftime, and we came out and started playing,” he said. “Then we got relaxed and wanted to trap the ball when that’s not what we wanted to do.”
The win is the fifth straight for the Red Devils in conference play with their last loss coming back to Nov. 28 to Lumberton.
“I think the bench steps up for us and they give minutes to rest the starters and it’s not a drop off,” Patterson said. “We are coming together more as a team.”
After a quiet first half, Mitchell finished with 16 points for the Red Devils. South Robeson’s Zach Carter finished with 13 points and Lesane added 12 points on four 3-pointers.
Red Springs stays in conference play on Monday when it travels to Whiteville and South Robeson hosts East Columbus.
Lady Red Devils run away from South Robeson
The Red Springs girls basketball team’s defense forced 23 turnovers to fuel a 58-14 blowout win at home over South Robeson on Friday.
Red Springs (5-2, 5-0 TRC) was led by Taya Jones with 18 points and seven rebounds and Taylynn Atkinson with 14 points, seven boards and four steals. Gabby Pecina had seven points and five steals and Katelyn Culbreth had six points and eight rebounds.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.