Meeting for the second time this season, but the first in Tri-County Six 3-A Conference play, Harnett Central’s varsity boys basketball team emerged from an overtime thriller at Harnett County rival Western Harnett with a 67-62 victory on Friday night.
“I guess it’s an understatement to say we’re pleased with the outcome,” said Harnett Central boys coach Will Gage. “I thought the effort was there. I thought we were pressing a little bit too much on ourselves on the offensive end at times in the fourth quarter and overtime. We had spots where we started passing the ball a little too much when we already had the ball in a good scoring position, but you can’t fault the guys for being too unselfish. In overtime they hit a big three and I thought our guys held their composure. (Western) played well. They’re well-coached. They’re athletic. They’ve got a lot of length. So, I thought our guys earned it.”
Western Harnett boys coach Seth Womble said the game was another in a long line of competitive battles between Western and Central.
“Another classic,” Womble said. “It reminds me of the one when, I think Russell Taylor was still the coach (at Western) and Nathan Laing hit the free throws (to give Central a 48-47 win against visiting Western on Nov. 28, 2011). We’ve had some close ones. It’s been fun. I just wish we were on the other end. I thought we did well as a team. Our record’s not very good. We had a great week of practice and we’re getting better. And I thought we played, for four whole quarters, the best game we’ve played all year.”
Senior Anthony Tomlinson paced the Trojans (8-5, 2-0 TCSC) with 31 points. Fellow seniors Justin Perkins, with 16 points, and Tre Williams, with 13 points, also scored in double figures.
Croix Shipman had four points and Austin Swan had three points.
Senior Tyrese Jones had 19 points and sophomore Steven Lassiter had 12 points to lead the Eagles (2-12, 0-2).
Sean Moore, Christian Dantzler and Wesley Lassiter had eight points apiece. Kahlil McLean had four points. Misha’el Vines had three points.
Womble said the vocal crowd of fans at the game played a big role.
“The student section was probably one of the better student sections we’ve had all year,” Womble said. “I thought it was great energy. Our guys fed off of that. They were hitting threes. They were hitting layups. They were getting defensive stops and rebounds. They were blocking shots above the rim. It was fun. We didn’t sustain the shot making and then we started to force some things and turned the basketball over. But I tell you what, the crowd for both sides were great. That was what the old Harnett Central-Western Harnett rivalry was like. Tonight, that’s what it kind of reminded me of.”
Western came out of the gates hot, going on a 13-4 run through the first quarter and starting the second with a score from Moore and a three-pointer from Wesley Lassiter to push the lead to 14.
But a three from Williams sparked a 14-3 run, with Perkins scoring to cut the lead to 21-18 at halftime.
“They were shooting the ball really, really well (in the first quarter) and we were not,” Gage said. “I thought they were outplaying us on both ends. And so, we cut it to three at halftime and that was huge. I said, ‘We’ve got to come back and battle, because they’re coming in here at halftime with a lot of confidence because they did exactly what they wanted to do in the first half. Every shot and every possession is going to be big in the second half.’”
With Western holding a 24-20 lead in the third quarter, a score from Williams started the Trojans on a 14-2 run, with 10 of those points coming from Tomlinson, to take a 34-26 lead. Central led 42-35 at the end of the third.
With Central holding a 50-45 lead late in the fourth, Dantzler scored to start the Eagles on a 9-1 run to take a three-point lead.
After Tomlinson scored to cut the lead back to one, a Dantzler free throw pushed it to two before Tomlinson scored again to tie the game in the waning seconds.
Jones drew a foul on the ensuing possession and went to the free throw line with one second remaining. He missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and a Western put back attempt also bounced off of the rim, sending the game to overtime.
With the score tied at 59, a Dantzler three put the Eagles in front. But after a Perkins score and a Western miss, Williams was fouled and made a pair of free throws to put Central back in front. A turnover on the ensuing possession then gave Tomlinson a fast break layup to increase the lead to three.
Western got the shot it was looking for on the ensuing possession, but Wesley Lassiter’s potential game-tying three bounced off of the rim, no good. Taking no chances, Tomlinson got the ball and raced down the court, scoring one last time at the buzzer.
In the girls game, Harnett Central overcame a slow start and finished strong to take a 47-27 win over Western Harnett.
“Our shots just weren’t falling in the first quarter,” said Harnett Central girls coach Catherine Griffin. “And it just goes like that sometimes, Friday night playing on the road and you haven’t played in a week. And our defense was good enough that they weren’t able to pull away.”
Western Harnett girls coach Matthew Smith was proud of his team’s efforts.
“From the first time we played them to this time, we’re a totally different team,” Smith said. “The girls have put in the work. I thought the girls tried as hard as they could and didn’t let the pressure get to them.
Even though the record doesn’t show it, I feel like this has been the biggest turnaround team we had. We lost LaLa (Bell, who graduated last year). LaLa was 24 points a game last year. I said, ‘LaLa’s gone. We’re going to take over. We’re going to play a different kind of basketball.’ And they’ve all bought into it and they’re trying their best right now to get to where we want to be.”
Junior Syniah McMiller had 23 points and junior Lyanah Molyneaux had 13 points to lead the Trojans (11-2, 2-0).
“We talked a lot with (McMiller) before this about being physical,” Griffin said. “And we knew they were going to be physical with her. We told her to just stay mentally tough tonight and be able to take the ball to the hole.”
Brittany Mills had nine points. Madeline Langdon and JoNese Monroe had one point apiece.
Senior Emonni Barber had nine points to lead the Eagles (2-13, 0-2).
Makyia Mackey had six points. Sydney Jackson had four points. Tenaejah McDougald and Ashanta Williams had two points apiece. Lanessa Bryson had two points.
Western jumped out to an early 6-2 lead before Central rallied to cut it to 9-7 at the end of the first quarter.
Central outscored Western in all three remaining quarters: 14-5 in the second, 11-7 in the third and 15-6 in the fourth.
Both teams continue conference play on Tuesday night. Harnett Central is at home against Lee County and Western Harnett travels to county rival Triton.