02/29/08 — Red Devils take control early

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Red Devils take control early

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on February 29, 2008 3:43 PM

GRAHAM -- History didn't repeat itself.

One year ago, Goldsboro High opened the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 2-A playoffs with a stirring upset of Jacksonville Northside -- ranked No. 1 at the time.

The Cougars couldn't duplicate the feat Thursday evening.

Georgia Southern signee Nate Blackburn delivered a game-high 23 points and No. 1-ranked Graham dominated Goldsboro 80-55 in their sectional No. 3 semifinal-round game. The Red Devils, now a perfect 28-0, entertain Southern Vance tonight with an eastern regional berth on the line.

Goldsboro finished the year 17-12 overall.

Before exiting the locker room for tip-off, first-year Cougars coach Tod Morgan warned his team to execute the first four minutes.

"We have to get off to a good start," he said.

The Red Devils scored off the tip-off and immediately employed their full-court press. The strategy effectively disrupted the Cougars' offense and created a frenzied pace.

J.B. Baldwin's two-handed slam off a turnover caused Morgan to call a 30-second timeout midway through the quarter. Two minutes later, he burned his second timeout when Baldwin put back his own miss after a turnover.

Graham led 17-6.

"We knew about their press and their jump traps," said Morgan. "We had three outlets like we worked on in practice, but we weren't aggressive meeting the passes."

When the Cougars did break the pressure, they didn't attack the basket and finish the play. Guards Tavon Murchison and Keovanta McDuffie faced constant pressure and couldn't find open spots in the Red Devil defense.

Graham's defenders caused the Cougars to double-clutch several shots inside, and pushed the ball upcourt once they got the rebound.

"Our press break is designed to take it through, attack and score," said Morgan. "We were not organized in terms of where to go from there. We double-pumped a lot of shots because they got a lot of hands in our faces."

Graham led 24-8 after one quarter and 38-27 at halftime.

Morgan hoped his team could put together a good four-minute stretch to start the third period, but it never materialized. The Red Devils eventually built an 18-point margin with 97 seconds left in the quarter.

Baldwin added 19 points for Graham, while Preston Newlin added 13.

Murchison played a strong all-around game with 11 points, nine rebounds, five assists and three steals. Leonard Compton chipped in 10 points, while Tyrelle Jackson posted seven points and seven rebounds.

"We played hard and I told my kids that after the game," said Morgan. "I'm proud of the effort we gave, and the kids' mentality of fighting hard and overcoming a lot of adversity this year."