RED SPRINGS — In the closing seconds of the Red Springs boys basketball team’s 66-59 win at home over St. Pauls, senior guard Caleel Mitchell rose up for a one-handed slam against St. Pauls 6-foot-7 center Sean McNeil Jr.
Mitchell’s attempted slam bounced off the rim as he failed to cap off his senior night victory, but his play over the game leading up to that moment was the difference to help the Red Devils claim third place in the Three Rivers Conference.
Red Springs (16-7, 13-5 TRC) rebounded from a slow start with Mitchell, along with several other seniors, that played their final regular-season home game on Friday to get a sour taste out of their mouths, limping to the regular season finale with four losses in their last five contests.
“After the week we’ve had, dropping four of our last five ballgames, I told them we had to find our identity,” Red Springs coach Glenn Patterson said. “I felt like the love for the game was lost in them and they weren’t competing the way I wanted them to. We challenged them to compete. I thought they competed tonight.
After St. Pauls (13-11, 11-7 TRC) took a 10-1 lead midway through the first quarter, Patterson took his five starting seniors out and replaced them with underclassmen. The message he left his veterans on the bench came through loud and clear. The Red Devils closed the quarter on a 10-0 run, and were tied at 12-all with the Bulldogs.
“I took them out when they started out, and I sat them down and said that this is where you’re going to be sitting if you don’t perform,” he said. “They answered and came out there and started playing.”
Mitchell scored 14 of his team-high 16 points in the first half, including a pair of threes to spark the run.
Red Springs went up by nine at the half, 37-26. An ugly third quarter, in which St. Pauls outscored the Red Devils 10-8, kept it close heading into the final period.
Nichorie West’s triple with 4:25 left gave the Red Devils their largest lead of the contest at 15, but the Bulldogs had an answer. Slowly chipping away and taking advantage of Red Springs’ shooting woes, St. Pauls cut the game to 62-56 with 45 seconds left on a Romeo Jordan dunk, but the experience of the Red Devils prevailed with free throws and defensive stops in the end.
St. Pauls was led by Jordan with 21 points and Emonta Smith with 18 points.
Red Springs’ Eriq McBryde had 13 points and six rebounds.
Both teams now wait for the conference tournament brackets to be released today.
Jones, Red Springs shine in second half
After trailing by nine points at halftime, Red Springs girls basketball coach Steve Sinclair said his team found what clicked on defense in the second half.
Behind a stingy full-court press that held St. Pauls to eight second-half points, the Lady Red Devils and senior Taya Jones pulled out a 40-28 victory.
“We decided to play defense,” Sinclair said. “That was the problem in the first half. I don’t know if it was because of senior night or whatever, but they came out flat and didn’t want to play defense.”
St. Pauls (12-12, 10-8 TRC) led 20-11 at halftime behind the scoring of freshman T.J. Eichelberger with 10 points, but the second half was controlled by Red Springs (17-6, 15-3 TRC) and Jones in the final regular season home game.
“She answered the call in the second half and said I need to step up and do what I need to do,” Sinclair said.
Jones had 19 points, with 13 in the second half, eight steals and six rebounds.
Eichelberger had 13 points for the Lady Bulldogs.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.