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Even after rallying back from a double-digit deficit to tie the game with 31.7 seconds remaining, the Hunt High boys basketball team (2-2) found no late-game heroics in a 53-48 loss to South Johnston (3-0) on Monday night.
“It was nice to comeback to tie the game up actually because the whole game they were up by 10 or more,” Hunt guard Ty’Chaun Clay said. “For us to comeback and go on that run like that, we felt like that was an accomplishment.”
The end result, though, did not validate the work it took to come so close to victory.
In a low-scoring first quarter, Hunt scored the first three points of the game, but lost the lead — what turned out to be for good — at 6-4.
Led by an offense run through powerful senior forward C.J. Ray, the Trojans quickly built that lead, pushing the pace in the second quarter to stay ahead by 11 points at the half.
“We were comfortable,” Ray explained. “We just moved the ball a lot. We played together and stayed together.”
In the first half, the trap defense of the Warriors left holes for Ray and the offense to flourish. Meanwhile, shooting struggles held Hunt to just 13 points in the first half.
Hunt head coach Dwight Taylor knew his team needed to make changes and switched into full man-to-man coverage to close down on the Trojans.
“We talked about settling down and not trying to get it all back at once,” Taylor said. “Settling down on defense. Offensively we were just out of rhythm.”
Those changes, and a focus on not trying to do too much, too quickly, put the home team in position for a much-improved second half.
The Warriors comeback did not come quickly, as the team had its hands full with Ray in the second half. While scoring just six in the first half, he erupted for 18 more, 10 at the free throw line, and ran the offense through his hands.
“We knew he was a full-out athlete,” Clay said. “We came into the game focused on him, trying to stop him not knowing he had a few key role players on the team.”
South Johnston maintained a comfortable double-digit lead into the middle of the third quarter, when Hunt started to chip into the lead. By the end of the third quarter, Hunt had whittled it to just six points, combatting Ray’s stellar shooting the rest of the way with its own answers to eventual get within two points of the Trojans.
South Johnston attributed the elimination of the lead to mistakes and turnovers that led to baskets for the Warriors.
“It got close because we were making silly passes, I did some silly passes myself,” Ray said. “But we got it together at the end and we knocked down some big free throws.”
The Warriors tied the game at 48 with less than a minute left on a pair of free throws from Clay.
The team got there aided by six points from Shaquille Wade in the opening minutes of the final quarter. Ray fired back to keep his team ahead each time Wade struck, but eventually the pressure on South Johnston’s top scorer made a difference.
But the team could not score again, letting a pair of crucial free throws made by Thomas Dees, Ray and Dylan Bates close out the last five points for a South Johnston victory.
South Johnston finished out the game with its third victory to the start the season and its third game with defense setting the team up for victory.
Meanwhile, the Warriors will regroup looking to close on opportunities late moving forward.
“Three games in a row without letting teams score 50 points, that ain’t happening much in high school basketball,” Trojans head coach Brody Massengill said. “That’s what we hold our hat on.”
SOUTH JOHNSTON (53)
Ray 24, McLean 9, Jones 6, Dees 4, Winborne 3, Webster 2, Watts 2, Bates 2, Norris 1.
Clay 15, Wade 10, Carmon 3, Hines 6, Hammonds 2, Taylor 6, Keen 2, Jones 4.
Score by quarters:
South Johnston 9 5 12 17 — 53
Hunt 5 8 17 18 — 48