Leading by 22 points after three quarters, the Southwestern High School boys basketball team had to fight for their lives in the final quarter to hold off a surging Wayne County High School team. The Cardinals cut the Warriors' lead to nine points, with 74 seconds left in the game, before Southwestern pulled off the 82-66 district win on Friday at the Wigwam.
The Warriors built their large lead thanks to an amazing third quarter by sophomore Eli Meece, who nailed five consecutive three-pointers midway through the period. Meece hit four of his treys from near the top of the key and his fifth came from the left corner. Meece ended the game with a career-high 24 points.
"Meece is capable of that kind of performance, he is capable of going on these kind of big runs and he is just a sophomore," Southwestern High School boys basketball coach Chris Baker exclaimed. "He is still trying to figure out what a varsity game is about and the speed it moves at. He got his confidence after he hit that first one and got on a roll. I am happy to see him do that"
Southwestern's Evan Smith scored in the more than 30 points for the second straight game, as the senior poured in a game-high 31 points on Friday night. Smith scored 37 on Tuesday against Lynn Camp.
Down by 22 points, Wayne County opened the fourth quarter with a 12 to 2 run to pull within 10 points with 3:38 left in the game. Two free throws by Kendall Phillips, a free throw by Mason Burchett, back-to-back baskets by Phillips, a Gage Gregory putback, and a Burchett three-pointer accounted for the Cardinals fourth-quarter run. The Cardinals got within nine points again with 1:14 left in the game.
"Part of the (Wayne County) comeback was on me," Baker explained. "I was trying to teach them for the future what a good shot looks like, and then they ended up trying to please me instead of play."
"I think tonight's game boiled down to guys like Brody Perkins and Campbell Coffey doing all the heavy lifting on the defensive end by getting the rebounds and getting on the floor," Baker added. "I thought those two guys did a great job in addition to all our offensive stars."
Southwestern's Brody Perkins scored two baskets and Andrew Jones scored on a layup to keep the Warriors ahead at 76-65 with 1:08 left in the game. Smith closed the game out and increased the Warriors' lead after hitting six consecutive free throws in the final 44 seconds of the game.
Southwestern rushed out an early 17-9 lead with 1:53 left in the opening period, with Smith scoring nine points in the opening six minutes of the game. After a Wayne County Renan Dobbs basket, and a Weaver layup - Burchett nailed a three-pointer to tie the score at 23-23 with 4:31 left in the first half.
However, the Warriors closed the third quarter with four straight three-pointers and a 15-to-6 run. Meece and Smith hit one trey each, while Lukas Maybrier hit back-to-back three-pointers to close the first half with the Warriors leading 38-29.
The Warriors hit 11-of-23 from beyond the arc for a hot 48 percent. Meece hit six treys, while Smith and Maybrier had two long-rang bombs apiece.
Wayne County was led by senior Brody Weaver's double-double of 16 points and 11 boards. Gage Gregory scored a team-high 17 points and had seven rebounds. Burchett and Kendall Phillips scored 14 points each.
Not only did Evan Smith lead the Warriors in scoring, but he dished out a game-high five assists and hit a perfect 11-of-11 from the free throw line.
Southwestern (5-3) will travel to Anderson County on Saturday, Jan. 23. Wayne County (1-4) will host Knox Centra on Saturday, Jan. 23.
STEVE CORNELIUS is the CJ Sports Editor and can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @CJSportseditor.
WC 13 16 15 22 - 66
SW 19 19 28 16 - 82
WAYNE COUNTY - Gregory 17, Weaver 16, Burchett 14, Kendall Phillips 14, Simpson 3, Dobbs 2.
SOUTHWESTERN - Smith 31, Meece 24, Maybrier 12, Jones 9, Perkins 4, Coffey 2.