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Panthers win in tourney opener

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North Pitt's Deonte Person drives past SouthWest Edgecombe defenders during a game Monday, Feb. 12, 2018.

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By JORDAN ANDERS
The Daily Reflector

Monday, February 12, 2018

BETHEL — North Pitt’s boys’ basketball team was able to showcase some of its best play and some of its most suspect play of the season in quick succession in Monday’s Eastern Plains 2-A Conference tournament opener against SouthWest Edgecombe.

Fortunately for NP coach Mark Carson, the former outweighed the latter and the Panthers were able to hold off the Cougars for a 60-58 victory that moved them into the tournament semifinals.

NP, the No. 3 seed, will take on No. 2 Nash Central in the semis at 6 p.m. Wednesday night at Farmville Central. The top seeded Jaguars will play immediately following that game against Beddingfield, which topped North Johnston in Monday’s other first-round contest in Bethel.

The Panthers (14-10) entered having lost their last two, but were able to make it a perfect 3-for-3 this season against SWE (5-15). Carson’s squad built a 28-13 halftime advantage on the back of some crisp ball-movement and stout defense, but then had to hold off a couple of torrid SWE runs in the second half to hold on for the win.

“I thought in the first half, we played defense about as well as we have this year,” said Carson, whose club gave up just four points and one basket in the second quarter. “SouthWest was a completely different team in the second half. ... They turned it up and press offense, obviously, we’ll be going over tomorrow in practice. It’s just a lack of focus when we don’t do what we’re supposed to do, but we’ll get better.”

After scoring just 13 points in the first half, the sixth-seeded Cougars scored 20 points in the first four minutes of the third quarter, committing to a full-court press defense and taking advantage of multiple instances in which NP turned the ball over on in-bound passes.

The Panthers led by 17 with 5:45 to play in the quarter, but SWE exploded for a 16-2 run in the next minute that cut North Pitt’s lead to three at 36-33. A layup by Zaquarius Sherrod-Wilson stopped that spurt and helped start a sequence in which NP pushed its lead back to nine, 45-36, after three quarters.

SouthWest had one more run up its sleeve, rallying in the fourth to tie it, 54-54, with a minute remaining, but that tie lasted just 12 seconds before North Pitt’s Tony Payton buried a 3-pointer from the left corner to put the Panthers ahead to stay.

Sherrod-Wilson finished with a game-high 18 and 15 rebounds. Payton had 10 as the only other NP player in double figures.

North Pitt has just one practice day to prep for Nash Central, a team it has played twice in the last 11 days. The two teams split with each winning on the road, and Wednesday’s neutral site matchup may rest on the Panthers finding a better balance in their style of play after dominating the slower first half Monday only to struggle once SWE cranked up the pace after halftime.

“We get nervous,” Carson said. “It’s hard when everything is so slow and easy, and then it gets fast and close. I think when they made that initial run (in the third quarter) and we got it back to nine, I think that was the difference because they made another run at the end and if we didn’t hold that first one, it was going to be an avalanche.”

GIRLS’ TOURNAMENT

Farmville Central 66

SW Edgecombe 48

The fifth-seeded Jaguars rolled past No. 4 SouthWest Edgecombe in the first round of the girls’ EPC tournament, setting up a semifinal matchup with North Pitt that will be those two teams’ second meeting in six days.

FC (12-9) took control by outscoring the Cougars 21-6 in the second quarter, then never looked back. They will take on top seed North Pitt at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in Bethel. North Johnston and Nash Central will play immediately before that in the other semifinal game.

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