RED SPRINGS — With two of his backcourt running mates not on the bench or on the floor Tuesday, Monte’ Wilkerson knew his offensive game had to pick up in the Red Springs boys basketball quarterfinal of the Three Rivers Conference tournament, and the junior guard delivered at times.
Aggressive play on the offensive side of the floor was a little different for the Red Devils’ floor general, but he found an offensive lift with Caleel Mitchell and Jerry McDowell suspended for the conference tournament and Nichorie West in foul trouble.
“It’s a lot on me (to be a scoring threat). Sometimes it stresses me out, but he (Coach Glenn Patterson) tells me not to get rattled and just play ball,” Wilkerson said. “The point guard position is a lot of pressure, but it gets me right for the next level so I can take it to the next level and take the team as far as I can in the playoffs.”
Wilkerson’s 14 points led Red Springs to a 51-47 win over South Columbus and sets up a fourth meeting this season with Fairmont in tomorrow’s semifinals at South Columbus.
“I thought the guys played pretty tough considering we were short-handed,” Patterson said. “I told him (Wilkerson) he had to take over. He looked for Caleel and Nichorie to do the scoring, but I told him his role had to change tonight. …I thought Monte’ stepped up and played for us in the absence of Caleel. I feel like he played a pretty decent ballgame.”
The Red Springs (13-10) offense flowed through Wilkerson, even when he had his moments of doubt on open shots and scoring opportunities that was to the dismay of Patterson. After going into the half up 22-17 on South Columbus (6-15), Red Springs quickly jumped out to a 13-point lead on a Wilkerson triple with three minutes left in the third period.
He shined in that run with eight of the 13 points.
“I got the open shots and I had to take them and knock them down,” Wilkerson said. “I’ve got to step it up on defense because we gave up a lot of shots that we didn’t need at the end of the game.”
But when Wilkerson was a bit timid on offense in the fourth, the Stallions made their move. Shiquaun Conyers scored four straight, and had seven points in the fourth quarter as South Columbus cut a once 11-point fourth-quarter lead to two possessions, but Red Springs defense came up with timely steals from Wilkerson and Jayshawn Carthens.
But regaining possession on steals was half the battle for the Red Devils, going 8-for-22 at the charity stripe in the fourth quarter. Despite the woes at the foul line, the defense battled through and came up with stop after stop to secure the win.
“We cannot beat anybody, regardless of who we are playing, if we can’t capitalize at the free-throw line,” Patterson said.
Wilkerson’s play-making ability will be imperative against Fairmont in not only scoring the ball, but controlling the tempo to avoid the fast-paced play that Red Springs struggled with in the three previous meetings.
“You can’t get in a rat race with them,” Wilkerson said of Fairmont. “We’ve got to keep the ball in my hands to get it started.”
“We know we can’t run with them so we are going to have to pack it in and force them to beat us from the outside,” Patterson said. “We’re not going to try and run with them because we’ve tried that three times and come up short. We want to control the tempo of the game.”
After trailing 12-9 after one quarter, Wilkerson and Shamar Bowers had back-to-back 3-pointers to open the second to give Red Springs a 15-12 lead that it held onto the rest of the game.
Eric Graham had eight points and Jerome Bass and Nichorie West added seven each for Red Springs. Kendrick Green had 14 points for South Columbus.
Leach’s triple-double leads Red Springs to semis
Senior guard Sha’nia Leach stuffed the stat sheet for the Red Springs girls basketball team against St. Pauls on Tuesday, turning back the clock to her play from her junior season, in a pivotal moment of her final season .
“Over the last two games, she’s got back to last year’s Sha’nia where she’s filling the stat sheet and exerting energy,” said Red Springs coach Steve Sinclair. “I think that’s the senior part of her not wanting her season to end.”
Behind Leach’s 14 points, 10 assists and 11 steals, Red Springs moved on to the Three Rivers Conference tournament semifinals with a 69-25 win. West Columbus awaits the Lady Red Devils after topping Whiteville 43-36 in the quarterfinals.
Red Springs (18-5) jumped out to an early 15-3 lead after one quarter, but a few defensive lapses in the second led to St. Pauls (3-20) keeping the margin hovering around 15 points. In the third and fourth quarters, the defense stifled St. Pauls with the Lady Bulldogs scoring 10 points after halftime and one point in the fourth quarter.
Red Springs had 25 steals as a team.
“We just had little moments, but we will go back to practice and sure it up tomorrow,” Sinclair said. “We felt pretty good about how our press was set up, but we’ve got to work a little more on our halfcourt defense.”
Taya Jones added 20 points and five steals for Red Springs and Kelsey Locklear had 17 points. JiVee Graham led St. Pauls with 12 points.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.