Alex Podlogar

Thinking outside the pressbox

Panthers too much for upset-minded Cavaliers

Published in The Sanford Herald on March 2, 2008

By ALEX PODLOGAR

Sports Coverage

GREENSBORO — Akeem Richmond tried.

The two-time All-State performer kept running off screens, kept running down loose balls and falling out of bounds, kept pleading with his teammates to stay in the game, to stay with him. He kept rising up for shots, usually with hands in his face, and kept trying to knock them down and give his Southern Lee Cavaliers a chance.

He barreled through the lane, slicing between two defenders, using a hard dribble to create a sliver of extra space and then softly laid a shot high off the glass, drawing contact and the whistle. The next trip down the floor, he rose from behind the arc, waiting that slim split-second longer until his defender started his gravitational slip downward to release the feathery shot, which was good as soon as it left his hand.

And then he did it again. The same way. The same hope when it left his hands, the same roar from the visiting faithful when it fell through.

And yes, he would do it again. Again. Catch. Rise. Wait. Release. Hope. Swish.

Tied.

Tied at 51 with 1:12 to go in the third quarter, the Southern Lee Cavaliers were on the road in a gym that had witnessed its team win eight straight sectional championships. The Cavaliers’ star had just scored his team’s last 12 points and mighty Dudley, winners of two of the last three state championships, was on the ropes in its own building.

And then a freshman took over.

A freshman.

Richmond had 21 points in the second half alone, keeping his Cavaliers in the game almost by himself to score a game-high 30.

It wasn’t enough.

Dudley won its ninth straight sectional title, advancing to the eastern regional semifinals behind 21 points and 17 rebounds from super frosh P.J. Harriston in an 80-67 victory on Friday night.

“It was a heckuva ballgame,” said Dudley coach David Price. “Two teams that made the regionals last year, and it’s a shame that one of us had to go home.”

The Panthers (27-2) led throughout the game, using a huge size advantage in the paint to control the boards and push back every Cavaliers’ charge, even Richmond’s. Dudley held a commanding 53-29 edge on the glass, running up a 12-point lead early in the second quarter before taking a 36-30 edge at the half.

The Cavaliers (26-4), who lost to Dudley 76-60 in Greensboro on Dec. 20, mounted several mini comebacks, none more impressive though than the one engineered by Richmond and his team’s suffocating defense, the same defense that sparked nine points in 22 seconds in a critical run the night before.

“The kid played a heckuva game,” Cavaliers coach Chris Cherry said of Richmond’s performance. “He did it on the biggest stage. He played like a superstar tonight.”

But no response was more emphatic or demoralizing to the Cavaliers than the one orchestrated by the 6-foot-6 Harriston. With Richmond on fire and Southern Lee believing it could pull off the impossible, Harriston brought the Dudley faithful to its feet.

In the third quarter’s final 72 seconds after Richmond had tied it at 51, Harriston scored on an offensive put-back, had a steal at midcourt that he took the rest of the way for a dazzling layup while being fouled, and kept an offensive possession alive with another board that was kicked out to Marcus Heath, who buried his fourth 3-pointer of the game to cap a brilliant 8-0 spurt that handed the Panthers a 59-51 lead entering the final period.

“That was the critical point in the game,” Cherry said. “(Harriston) kept a couple of possessions alive with two, three rebounds at a time, and then we threw it away and they hit that big 3. But that’s what good teams do. They take advantage of things like that, and that’s what Dudley did.”

A layup by Brandon Pennix to open the fourth quarter stretched the Dudley lead to 10, and though the Cavaliers continued to make gutsy efforts to get back into the game — Richmond added nine points in the fourth quarter after his binge in the third — Southern Lee never got closer than five points the rest of the way.

“The game was really tough,” Richmond said. “All in all, I thought we played well. But we knew we needed to play perfectly to beat them, and we didn’t do that. But we gave all we had. I’m proud of our team.”

Dudley, which fell to Kinston in the regional finals a year ago, will play Northern Vance, which beat Rocky Mount 77-74 on Friday night, next week in Greenville.

Pennix added 12 points and 13 boards for the Panthers while Heath added 19 points and eight rebounds. Ricky Smith chipped in 12 points and seven rebounds.

Aaron Mellette had eight points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots for the Cavaliers while Darrell Alston shook off foul trouble to add 11 points in one of his finest all-around performances of the season.

“The kids laid it all on the line,” Cherry said. “We were neck-and-neck with them for 27, 28 minutes.”

Ultimately, it was the Cavaliers who would rise up, hope for a moment, and then fall back.

Advertisements

February 3, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: