01/25/05 — Faith Christian men move to 16-2

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Faith Christian men move to 16-2

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on January 25, 2005 1:55 PM

Dressed in street clothes, injured starters Jonathan McNeese and Aaron Sladick have become vocal bench leaders for the Faith Christian Academy men's basketball team.

McNeese is recovering from a broken leg, while Sladick is recuperating from a severe ankle sprain. There's no doubt the Conquerors miss their experience and leadership on the court. But the duo is having fun watching five underclassmen, along with senior Stephen Sloan, help keep Faith Christian (16-2) unbeaten against Mid-Atlantic Christian Athletic Association competition.

Sloan collected his second consecutive double-double -- 29 points and 11 rebounds -- as the Conquerors dodged Bethel Christian of Kinston 72-65 on Monday evening. Faith Christian climbed to 4-0 in the MACAA and continues play today at Trinity Christian of Greenville.

The Conqueror women survived a stirring fourth-quarter rally by the visiting Trojans and prevailed 34-31. They captured their first MACAA victory of the season in four tries and climbed to 5-7 overall.

McNeese and Sladick's absence depleted the Conquerors' depth and forced veteran coach Jeff Stocks to move two freshman into his current seven-man rotation. The scheme has produced a modest three-game win streak, which Stocks isn't taking for granted.

"The bench experience we're getting now is only going to be great and make us better," Stocks said.

However, the Conquerors' youth -- particularly on defense -- nearly proved fatal against the Trojans. Bethel used a 14-0 run to trim a 19-point deficit to 50-45 at the six-minute mark in the final quarter.

Faith Christian failed to drop back defensively in transition and yielded numerous uncontested layups to either Justin Marshburn or Ashley Mills. The Trojans (8-10) shot better than 70 percent during that stretch and converted two old-fashioned, three-point plays.

"I think we get too complacent when we get a lead," Stocks said. "We want to sit back on the defensive end and then we don't play defense like we normally do. That's the youth coming out in us. We're learning ... getting better."

Sloan's layup underneath, off T.J. Sasser's ninth assist of the game, stopped the run. Bethel closed within six points twice before Sloan dribbled through a trap and knocked down the layup with just under two minutes remaining in regulation.

The Conquerors built an 11-point lead in the final minute with solid accuracy (7 of 8) at the free throw line. Sloan, John Spencer and William Smith provided the key points during that stretch.

Stocks praised his team for keeping its poise, especially after it built the 19-point cushion late in the third quarter. Sasser and Sloan did the damage from the perimeter, combining for three 3-pointers in a four-possession span. Spencer and Josh Brannon converted passes underneath for layups from Sasser and Smith, who combined for 14 assists.

Sloan's baseline jumper gave Faith Christian a seemingly comfortable margin at 50-31. Josh Gates' three-point play, which occurred after a Mills steal and assist, started the Trojans' 14-0 run that nearly turned Stocks' hair a little grayer on the sidelines.

"We let teams get closer than they should," Stocks said. "So far, we've done a good job of winning. Those are the kind of games that are good for us. We can learn from them."

Faith Christian's women shook off a sluggish opening two minutes after falling behind 5-0 to Bethel. Elizabeth Christopher hit four of her game-high five 3-pointers in the first quarter to ignite a 22-0 run that lasted nearly 10 minutes.

The Conquerors led by 15 at halftime and increased their advantage to 16 after three quarters of play. But they nearly experienced a sense of 'deja vu' in the final eight minutes and almost duplicated a loss which occurred Friday against Gateway (Va.) Christian.

Bethel converted numerous turnovers into points, including six on 3-pointers during a 9-2 run. Elizabeth Clarke kept Faith Christian in front with solid free throw shooting, but the Trojans kept firing from the perimeter. Brittany Jones' bank shot off Kayla Sutton's assist and Courtney Speare's second 3-pointer led to 34-31 finale.

"We played a strong first half, played with intensity and took good shots," Conquerors coach Eddie Smith said. "In the fourth quarter, all that seemed to fall apart. (But) it was a big win for us because weren't expected to play with this team."

Christopher finished with a game-high 15 points -- all from behind the 3-point arc. Clarke added eight points, while Melissa Howell provided six points and six rebounds.