North Lenoir's title hopes dashed
By David Williams
Published in Sports on March 7, 2004 2:00 AM
GREENVILLE -- The pain was evident in Justin Dunn's eyes.
Dunn, perhaps the most explosive basketball player in the area, sat quietly in a chair in the interview room. His Hawks had just lost 73-70 to East Bladen in the regional semifinals of the N.C. High School Athletic Association's Class 2-A playoffs at Williams Arena on the East Carolina University campus.
It was a game the Hawks should have won, and he knew it.
It was a game the Hawks had the chance to win three times in the contest -- early in the second half after being up by 10 points at intermission, in the early part of the fourth period when North Lenoir seemed prime to make a decisive run. And finally, in the last minute when two big three-pointers gave a seemingly dying team a chance at one more shocking comeback.
Dunn could only look back on the closing minutes and wonder what might have been.
"I know I could have helped the team," he said.
Dunn, whose 24 points led North Lenoir, was in no position to help anyone. He fouled out at a huge point in the game that changed the momentum in favor of the Waccamaw Conference champions.
Dunn was nursing four fouls early in the fourth period when Jamie Mason broke away with a steal. But instead of taking the easy layup, Mason spotted Dunn coming in from behind him.
Mason threw up a soft lob off the glass for Dunn to slam home, which he did -- but he came over the back of Mason's defender to do it.
Dunn was out of the game and had fouled out for the first time all season. East Bladen responded with an 11-0 run as North Lenoir did not score for the next two minutes.
"Our kids really had to respond to that," said North Lenoir coach Charlie Stevens. "It was a poor decision. We should have laid it up for a three-point lead, but Jamie knew if Justin threw that down, it might have broken the game open.
"You live by the home run, you die by it."
North Lenoir owned the first half, executing its half-court offense and swatting away any layup try East Bladen attempted. The Eagles shot a distressing 27 percent from the floor and seemed out of sync when the team went to the locker room with North Lenoir ahead 34-24.
North Lenoir lost a chance to get an early second-half run as East Bladen adjusted its defense to trap the Hawk guards, The play worked well as North Lenoir coughed up the ball 21 times, giving the Eagles a chance to get back in the game.
East Bladen managed to find the running, full-court game it thrives in. Stan Johnson, who led all scorers with 33 points, hit key shots and cleaned up around the basket.
After fighting through the third period to draw close, East Bladen used Dunn's departure to take control of the game, going up by 10 points at 70-60 with 2:08 left.
But the Hawks, playing without Dunn and center Kevin Lee -- who had also fouled out with 1:45 left -- didn't fold. Leon Best led the team by nailing three free throws and hitting a big three-pointer along with Omar Jones to draw close. East Bladen, which shot just 17-of-37 for the game, missed several chances to put the game away, leaving a chance for a three to tie on the last possession.
But C.J. Sherrod's shot clanged off short.
John Cobb hit four 3-pointers and ended the night with 20 points for North Lenoir.
"We didn't get comfortable," said East Bladen coach Curtis Moss. "That team (North Lenoir) battled to get back in it. They are a good team and they are well-coached."
East Bladen took on Bunn for the eastern championship Saturday night.
North Lenoir, which has not won a regional playoff game in five tries, will look to the future. Only Dunn returns from the starting lineup.
"I'm proud of my team," said Stevens. "They left everything out there. We were one bounce from winning it. The fans saw two quality teams go at it.
"Nobody really failed out there."
2004 N.C. High School
Athletic Association Class 3-A
(at Williams Arena, Minges Coliseum, ECU)
North Lenoir 17 17 13 24 -- 71
East Bladen 13 11 26 24 -- 74
NORTH LENOIR (24-6)
John Cobb 7 4 2-6 20, Justin Dunn 8 0 8-9 24, Leon Best 1 1 3-3 6, Kevin Lee 3 0 0-0 6, Omar Jones 1 1 0-0 5, Jamie Mason 0 1 1-3 4, Samuel Edwards 1 0 1-1 3, Russell Rouse 1 0 1-2 3. TOTALS -- 23 6 16-24 70.
EAST BLADEN (24-4)
Stan Johnson 12 1 8-9 33, Craig Moore 6 0 2-8 14, Jeffrey McKoy 4 2 0-0 10, Andrew Holland 3 0 3-8 9, Erick Mullins 1 0 2-4 4, Jermaine Henry 1 0 0-0 2. TOTALS -- 27 3 17-37 73.
Three-point baskets -- North Lenoir 6 (Cobb 4, Best, Mason), East Bladen 3 (McKoy 2, Johnson). Turnovers -- North Lenoir 21. East Bladen 16. Total fouls -- North Lenoir 29, East Bladen 22. Fouled out -- Dunn, Lee, Edwards, Moore. Technicals -- none.
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