MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, NC -- It was free throws down the stretch that made the difference for Lejeune High School’s boys basketball team in Friday night’s Coastal Plains 1-A Conference Championship in which the Devilpups edged out the Trojans of Jones Senior High School to defend their conference title with a score of 66-63.
The two very evenly matched teams spent the opening quarter feeling each other out and trading baskets, but the beginning of the second marked a change in momentum when the Trojans went on a 12-4 run, making the score 19-10 with less than four minutes in the half. A late surge by Lejeune, including five points from the foul line, brought the ‘Pups within four going into halftime.
The Trojans opened up the second half with four unanswered points, forcing Lejeune to call a timeout at the five-minute mark. After collecting themselves, the Devilpups began to slowly whittle away at the deficit.
A big drive by Lejeune’s Rodney Williams, who tallied 15 points in the victory, tied the game at 37. Four missed free throws by Jones and a minute later; Williams hit a three and gave Lejeune the lead for the first time since the opening minutes.
The Trojans were forced to call a timeout, but their hopes of slowing Lejeune and Williams went unrealized when, with only seconds remaining, he hit a mid-air jumper and ended the quarter giving the ‘Pups a seven point lead.
But Jones Senior refused to quit and responded in the beginning of the final quarter with another burst led by freshman forward Donte Moss, who double-doubled, leading the team with both 22 points and 14 boards. A series of Lejeune turnovers coupled with Jones’ fast paced offense resulted in a seven point run, tying the game at 45 with seven minutes to play.
Again, the relentless Trojans put a pair of baskets together and regained the lead, but six free throws from Lejeune’s Pierre Singleton, the tournaments Most Valuable Player who led his team in both points and rebounds with 23 and 13 respectively, and a three from Kurt Gentile put Lejeune up by a point with just under four minutes left in regulation.
Down by a bucket with under two minutes remaining Lejeune’s Deric Alston drove the ball from the top of the key and sunk a jumper from just inside the paint tying the game again at 60.
After a quick basket from each team and a Trojan free throw, Lejeune, trailing 62-63 with 46 seconds on the clock, saw their hopes of winning another conference championship slipping away. But Alston, one of the team’s senior leaders, was determined to make something happen.
With time winding down, Alston decided to drive the lane and get a quick two, but was fouled and went to the line.
“I was nervous,” said Alston. “But I knew I had to connect on those two; I just envisioned myself making them in practice.”
Sure enough, Alston made both and put his team up by one. In a hurried panic, Jones made a costly mistake and turned the ball over. With only seconds left, Jones was forced to foul to stop the clock.
Alston returned to the line and was perfect again to make it 66-63 and leave the Trojans with virtually no chance of winning.
A missed desperation three from one of the Trojans as time ran out sealed the victory for Lejeune.
The Devilpups improved to 17-7 and will have a first-round bye for next weeks North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s 1-A playoffs.
Jones’ Jamari White, DeAndra Barfield and Anthony Hall combined for 30 points in the contest.