01/09/10 — Southern Wayne boys open ECC play victorious

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Southern Wayne boys open ECC play victorious

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on January 9, 2010 11:12 PM

DUDLEY -- Written down and locked away since the season began, Southern Wayne's goals this season include among other things, winning a conference championship.

Reminded of those goals by head coach Russell Stephens before Friday night's Eastern Carolina 3-A Conference opener with Triton, the Saints took their first step in the right direction with a 59-40 win.

"Before our first game the guys wrote down our team goals, and I took them and put them in the locker room and locked them up," said Stephens. "We brought them out tonight and put them up on the board. Nearly everybody on the team had winning the conference championship as one of their goals.

"You have to win home games to win conference championships."

The Saints opened the third quarter on a 9-2 run and turned a 28-21 halftime lead into a 37-23 cushion in a little more than four minutes. Bernard Gross' 3-point play pushed the margin to 42-27 and Southern Wayne took a 46-29 lead into the fourth quarter.

"We definitely wanted to pound the ball inside," said Stephens. "I just think our guys did a good job of playing inside-out. Once we start doing that, we shoot the ball better."

The Hawks (8-5 overall, 1-1 ECC) struggled to slow down the penetration of Saints point guard Justin Artis all night. Artis finished with a team-high 13 points, and got to the basket with ease while distributing the ball to open teammates.

"Justin was big," said Stephens. "His ball penetration was big and he's able to get into the lane this year and he's finishing. He's getting the bumps and taking the hits, and he's pretty productive from the free throw line."

Southern Wayne (8-6, 1-0) persevered through 13 first-half turnovers by using stingy defense and getting back in transition to negate Triton's fast-break opportunities. The Saints scored 10 of the final 14 points of the first half.

"If we don't get shots at the basket, we don't want to give up easy ones," said Stephens. "I thought our defense was top to bottom all night. We defended well, we rebounded the ball well and we covered up really well on defense. We closed out on some lanes and forced to them to have some outside shots but they weren't uncontested shots.

"We forced shots away from their best players and I think that was a big key for us winning this ballgame."

Khari Faison contributed 10 points, four rebounds and two blocked shots. Rashadd Hill led Southern Wayne in rebounds with eight.

The Saints entertain North Lenoir on Jan. 15.