12/30/08 — Saints shake off holiday rust

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Saints shake off holiday rust

By Ryan Hanchett
Published in Sports on December 30, 2008 1:46 PM

DUDLEY -- West Craven remained winless on the basketball court Monday evening.

Southern Wayne made sure it wasn't the Eagles' first victim.

The Saints shook off some rust, kicked up the offensive intensity in the second half and prevailed 59-37 in the inaugural Southern Wayne Saints Christmas Classic.

The extended holiday break concerned second-year Saints head coach Russell Stephens. The first quarter proved his worries as West Craven seized a 13-10 lead.

"The key is getting guys to come out and play with full intensity from the opening tip," said Stephens. "Our numbers allowed us to get a lot of guys involved and get them into the flow early."

The Saints responded with a 10-0 run in the second period. Desmond Raiford capped the scoring outburst with a thunderous one-handed slam dunk off a fast-break opportunity.

Southern Wayne led 27-20 at intermission.

"I thought we had a run in us right before the half," said Stephens. "But coming off a long break I was a little concerned about our guys' legs, so I chose to continue our rotation and get some new guys in there."

It was more of the same in the second half as Southern Wayne wore down the Eagles with a 12-man rotation that allowed Stephens to employ his signature defensive pressure.

The Saints used 13 different players in the contest, 12 of whom scratched the scoring column.

"That's the key to our game," said Stephens. "We have guys that do different things well, and that allows us to play a lot of people."

Raiford led the Saints offensively with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Khalil Artis and Dwight Smith each scored seven points apiece. Brandon Anderson finished with six points.

Erik Highsmith paced the Eagles' attack with 13 points. Ramsey Keys scored all seven of his points in the second half.

Possibly more telling than the final score was the rebounding and turnover statistics. The Saints won the battle of the boards 51-36. They also forced 22 turnovers.

"We are 8-0 when we win the battle on the glass," said Stephens. "Our post guys made themselves big and really played hard."

Southern Wayne (9-4 overall) battles Durham Hillside tonight at 7:30 p.m., while West Craven (0-9) faces Spring Creek.

"They are a very good team, coming off a win and they will be ready to play," Stephens said. "West Craven is a more physical team, but Hillside is more of a skill team and a finesse team.

"The second game of a back-to-back (tournament) is when you see what your team is made of."