N. Lenoir men's season ends at Warren Co.
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on February 24, 2005 2:18 PM
WARRENTON - Late in the fourth quarter, the Hawk Krazees began chanting "thank you seniors!" as the North Lenoir men's basketball team agonizingly watched their season conclude Tuesday evening at Warren County.
Hardly considered a playoff contender less than two weeks ago, the North Lenoir men's basketball team stumbled 73-66 in the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 2-A Sectional No. 4 playoffs. The Hawks, an eastern regional semifinalist each of the past two seasons, finished with a 21-6 worksheet.
Warren County (20-8) continues play Friday in the sectional championship at T.W. Andrews. The Red Raiders, ranked No. 5 in the final NCPreps.com poll and 25-2 overall, ousted Greene Central 65-54.
"It was like I told the kids, it was a heckuva ride and I don't want to dwell on it (the loss)," first-year North Lenoir coach Paul Dunn III said. "No one gave this group a chance. So these kids went out and wanted to get the respect that they surely deserved."
Hovering below the .500 mark in conference play and smarting from a home loss against Greene Central on Feb. 1, the Hawks embarked on a mission. They adopted a "refuse to lose" attitude and set out to prove the EPC was their domain.
North Lenoir averaged 80-plus points in its final three regular-season conference games and maintained the momentum by taking the EPC tournament title. The Hawks seized their seventh consecutive victory -- a 24-point throttling of Eastern Alamance in Monday's opening-round playoff game.
The confident swagger had returned.
But that self-assuredness never surfaced against the Eagles, the No. 2 seed from the Northern Carolina Conference. Warren County kept its poise, executed its offense and prevented the Hawks from forcing an up-tempo pace.
The Eagles led 31-28 at halftime and boosted their advantage to 38-30 early in the third quarter. E.J. Brown converted back-to-back steals into uncontested layups to pull the Hawks within 47-41 after three quarters.
Warren County grabbed a 53-43 lead with 5:43 remaining in regulation.
Hawk senior Justin Dunn, still bothered by a left-ankle sprain, got loose for an old-fashioned three-point play to start a 10-1 run. Omar Jones rebounded a miss, got fouled and finished off a three-point play of his own.
"They were aggressive during that stretch and got us to speed up and do some things uncharacteristic of our ball team," Warren County coach John Moseley said. "They've got two great players and to their credit, those two kids really stepped up during that stretch and made plays.
"We just needed to do a better job of settling down, taking our time and getting what we wanted instead of taking something very quick."
Jones added another basket underneath and followed that up with a huge defensive play against 6-foot-5 Eagle center Ronnie Durham. Jones blocked his shot from behind, slapped the loose ball out to the corner and out-hustled two Eagles for control of the ball.
Two seconds later, Jones hit Dunn with an open-court pass and the highly-touted Division I recruit finished off the play. The Hawk Krazees, now in a frenzy, chanted "Hawk Time" as North Lenoir pulled within 54-53.
However, those cheers quickly subsided when Eagle guard Eric Stevenson buried a 3-pointer from the left corner. After a North Lenoir miss, Stevenson drove down court, kept his dribble and found the open lane for an uncontested layup.
The two baskets ignited a game-clinching 13-4 run.
"Eric has been that way the whole year," Moseley said. "Sometimes we have to slow him down a little bit and make sure we get other guys involved (in the offense). Our guys understand he gets a little bit more of a green light (to score) than our other guys."
"The kid can stroke it," coach Dunn said of Stevenson.
The loss ended the careers of Justin Dunn, E.J. Brown, Russell Rouse and Doug Beal. The quartet helped the Hawks record three consecutive 20-win campaigns that included two EPC regular-season championships, and one tournament crown.
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