02/10/06 — Saints hang on at the top

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Saints hang on at the top

By Gabe Whisnant
Published in Sports on February 10, 2006 2:28 PM

DUDLEY -- Life at the top of the Class 3-A Eastern Carolina Conference's boys basketball standings isn't easy -- just ask Southern Wayne coach Mike Connelley.

Night after night, his state-ranked Saints take every team's best shot as their opponents look to slay Goliath. Thursday was certainly one of those nights ... and then some.

With Charles B. Aycock leading by two near the end of regulation, the Saints' Delawn Armwood knocked down a jumper at the buzzer to send the emotionally-charged contest into overtime. Armwood's teammate and fellow senior, Akeem Royal, drilled a 3-pointer late in the overtime period with his team down by two again -- putting Southern Wayne ahead for good in a nail-biting 93-91 win over the Golden Falcons in front of a big crowd at the Saints' gymnasium.

Southern Wayne and Charles B. Aycock

News-Argus/Bobby Williams

Charles B. Aycock's Rob Phillips (22) puts up a shot in the lane as Southern Wayne's Antonio Davis (3), Akeem Royal (5) and Justin Bellamy (20) defend during Thursday night's contest.

On Senior Night, Royal, one of five senior starters, finished with a game-high 34 points despite shooting just four-of-11 from the free-throw line. Armwood contributed 27 points, while Antonio Davis posted 17 points, including one-of-two at the line to push the score to its final margin in the waning seconds of the extra period.

The win secures the Saints' second straight ECC title as they concluded the regular season at 20-2 overall and 9-1 in league play, one game ahead of Kinston. Southern Wayne, ranked third in the latest ncpreps.com 3-A poll, will have a first-round bye for the conference tournament, which begins Monday as the Saints will host a semifinal contest next Wednesday.

"Everybody wants to beat us bad. But you try to be the guy everybody wants to beat," Connelley said. "We went 20-2 and we're the conference champs. They've done everything we've asked them to do so far."

Aycock (7-16 overall), which led by double digits as late as the two-minute mark of the third quarter, finished conference play at 3-7 and will likely take the ECC's fifth seed into the conference tournament. Official pairings for the tournament were not available at press time, and will appear in Sunday's edition.

The Falcons' three leading scorers came up big again for coach David West. Seniors Santavin Poole and Rob Phillips had 26 and 25 points, respectively. Poole proved difficult to contain down low through the game with nine field goals and a 7-of-8 effort at the stripe. Phillips drained four 3-pointers and made two in a third period that saw Aycock take its largest lead of the second half at 58-48 with two minutes left. Meanwhile, junior Lamada Williams consistently created his own baskets off the dribble with 10 field goals, mostly on runners and layups through traffic in the paint.

"I can't take anything away from our kids efforts. This was as hard of a game as these kids have played all year," West said.

Southern Wayne's Derek Garris, who added eight points, hit a late 3-pointer to give the Saints a 21-15 lead after one. In the second, Aycock went up 28-23, then later at 37-28 on a tough fadeaway by Williams. Each time, Southern Wayne managed to keep the visitors within striking distance as the Saints trailed 38-33 at the break.

Phillips' back-to-back threes late in the third and four baskets each by Williams and Poole kept Aycock out in front as Royal, Davis and the Saints' potent offense started to find their aggression, which seemed to be missing in the early going. Royal had 11 in the third, while Davis chipped in seven.

But, reserve guard Justin Bellamy provided the final fireworks of the high-scoring third quarter. With his team down seven, Bellamy hit a buzzer-beater from halfcourt to pull Southern Wayne within four at 64-60 -- setting the stage for the fourth quarter and overtime dramatics.

"We've played eight quarters against them, and five of them have ended on makes at the buzzer by them," said West. "They've got as good of shooters as anybody in the state."

The Falcons maintained the lead for the first three minutes of the fourth, then a three by Armwood gave the Saints a 74-71 margin. As the teams traded baskets, the lead would change hands three more times, before Aycock took a 79-78 advantage near the one-minute mark on a hoop down low by Montez Ham. The Falcons would go up 82-78 after one-of-two by Williams, then Southern Wayne's Davis -- not known for his outside shooting -- stepped out and hit a 3-pointer to draw his team within one with :30 left.

Aycock shot 11-of-15 from the free-throw line overall, but three of those misses came in the last thirty seconds -- leaving the door open for the Saints. After the Falcons missed the front end of a one-and-one, the Saints' Austin Hood got a pass off the rebound near midcourt, lost the handle and recovered, then passed to Armwood in the right corner. Armwood took a dribble to his left to get open, then knocked down the jumper that sent the rivals into overtime.

Leading 91-89 with one minute left in overtime, the Falcons went for the jugular with a 3-point attempt that would have all-but-sealed an upset win. But, the shot missed and Royal hit a three on the next trip down that put the Saints up 92-91. The Saints, despite shooting 1-of-5 from the stripe in overtime, never trailed again. The Falcons missed a golden chance to take the lead with under five seconds left, but a shot in the paint didn't fall as Davis secured the rebound and made one-of-two before the sound of the final horn in the classic battle.

"Our guys did some good things late in the game, but we can't shoot free throws like that and expect to win in the conference tournament and in the playoffs," Connelley said. "I think we also settled for the jump shot too much tonight. That's a double-edged sword of being a good shooting team, but we need to take it to the hoop more and be more aggressive."

The Saints finished the regular season with an 8-0 mark against Wayne County foes, while Aycock slipped to 1-6 against county competition.

C.B. Aycock 15 23 26 19 8 -- 91

So. Wayne 21 12 27 23 10 -- 93

C.B. AYCOCK (7-16, 3-7)

Santavin Poole 8 1 7-8 26, Rob Phillips 5 4 3-4 25, Lamada Williams 10 1 1-2 24, Montez Ham 4 0 0-0 8, Brandon Price 2 0 0-1 4, Evan Medford 1 0 0-0 2, Nick Weaver 1 0 0-0 2. TOTALS -- 31 6 11-15 91.

SOUTHERN WAYNE (20-2, 9-1)

Akeem Royal 9 4 4-11 34, Delawn Armwood 7 4 1-6 27, Antonio Davis 6 1 2-5 17, Derek Garris 1 2 0-0 8, Anthony Council 2 0 0-0 4, Justin Bellamy 0 1 0-1 3. TOTALS -- 25 12 7-23 93.

3-point goals -- CBA 6 (Phillips 4, Poole, Williams), SW 12 (Royal 4, Armwood 4, Garris 2, Davis, Bellamy). Turnovers -- CBA 15, SW 14. Total fouls -- CBA 19, SW 16. Fouled out -- Poole (CBA). Technical fouls -- Royal (SW).