02/20/11 — Southern Wayne boys win physical ECC championship game

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Southern Wayne boys win physical ECC championship game

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on February 20, 2011 1:51 AM

PIKEVILLE -- Regular-season co-champions Southern Wayne and Triton engaged in the battle their respective coaches hoped to see Friday evening.

Boy, was it nerve racking.

The Saints missed an eye-popping 26 free throws and somehow escaped with a 54-49 victory over the Hawks in the 2011 Eastern Carolina 3-A Conference boys' tournament championship game.

"We talked about before the game started that we needed a battle before the playoffs started and we got one tonight," said Southern Wayne head coach Russell Stephens. "You had the top two teams in the conference, both of them are one game away from a 20-win season and both of them have been playing fairly good basketball.

"I think both teams got what they wanted."

However, the top-seeded Saints (20-4 overall) appeared on the verge of blowing out the second-seeded Hawks in the early stages of the second quarter. Khari Faison and Bernard Gross converted key baskets in transition to turn an 8-8 tie into a 26-14 advantage.

Triton answered.

Guard Kendrick Harris got hot from the perimeter and buried three consecutive jumpers, including two 3-pointers, to help forge a 34-34 deadlock by halftime.

"There were some panic situations going on because we jumped out on them early and we knew from playing them down there (in Erwin) the last game, they can go on big runs," said Stephens. "We told our guys don't panic. Sometimes we're our own worst enemies ... like sharks, we either eat somebody or we're going to eat ourselves.

"We got our composure back."

The game was tied on five occasions in the third quarter, the last at 44-44 before Devondre Johnson gave the Saints the lead for good, 45-44, on a free throw.

Southern Wayne led 47-45 going into the fourth quarter. Each team turned up its defensive intensity, which led to a parade of futility at the free throw line. The Saints and Hawks combined to miss 12 free throws and neither team hit a field until the last 87 seconds of the game.

Council's offensive putback iced the outcome and gave Southern Wayne its first conference tournament title since 2006, and seventh overall since 1989. Council finished with nine points, while Faison supplied a double-double -- 15 points, 10 rebounds.

Delfawn Worrells added 10 points. Gross chipped in eight points and 10 rebounds. The Saints shot a woeful 17 of 43 from the free throw line and committed an uncharacteristic 20 turnovers.

"We know we're going to have to make free throws in the playoffs, and we're very fortunate to get out of here with a win tonight," said Stephens.