LUMBERTON — Although Lumberton boys basketball coach Matt Hill was nervous on Tuesday knowing his team faced a game where it would either win or the season is over in the Sandhills Athletic Conference tournament against Seventy-First, his players tried their best to put the worries at bay.
“I get hyped up for games and Braylan (Grice) and those guys will keep saying, ‘We’ve got this, coach.’ Which makes you feel a bit better, but you want to see them do it, not say it,” Hill said. “Tonight, they were, especially in the first half, zoned in and everything was going our way. Then it flipped.”
The words helped Hill a little, but the play of his players in the 60-57 win were what he really wanted to see. The win clinched the fourth-place seed out of the conference for the NCHSAA state playoff seeding that starts on Saturday.
No. 4 Lumberton (14-11) looked like it would cruise to a victory over No. 5 Seventy-First (14-10) in the second quarter with a 20-point cushion. A second foul called on the Pirates’ Jordan McNeill was enough to change the course of the game in the Falcons’ favor.
“I didn’t want him to get a third dumb foul so I took him out and I felt the air go out from there,” Hill said. “That’s when they started that run.”
After leading 35-15 with less than four minutes until halftime, and the team’s leading scorer out, Lumberton strung together a few bad possessions, and Seventy-First capitalized to head to the locker room down 14 points and then draw closer in the third quarter, cutting the lead to as small as 37-31.
Brion McLaurin and Dontravious Byrd combined for nine of the Falcons’ 15 points in the third quarter to help draw within nine points heading into the final period, then keyed a 10-2 run to start the frame and cut the Lumberton lead to 47-46 with 4:42 left.
After being saddled with foul trouble in the second quarter that helped the Falcons get back into the game, McNeill hit a pair of buckets to help take the lead out to 51-46 and a pair of free throws in the closing minutes to keep the lead in Lumberton’s hands.
“Our kids took the haymaker to the mouth, gathered ourselves and fought to the end of the game,” Hill said.
McNeill finished with a game-high 15 points, while Grice added 13 points and Steph Lloyd and Kwashek Breeden each chipping in 11 points.
Seventy-First’s McLaurin had 13 points and Darius Bryant added 12 points.
After missing out on the postseason in his first season at Lumberton last year, Hill is ready to see his season live on after this week, but the focus turns to Hoke in Thursday’s semifinals.
The Bucks earned a 77-70 win over Purnell Swett on Tuesday. Kyler Page had 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Rams. Darriante Parker added eight points and 10 assists.
“Getting back to the playoffs, that will be great. The thing about the playoffs is everybody is 0-0,” he said. “We want to go handle business there (at Hoke). It’s going to take a lot and they guys will have to play hard.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.