With the two teams meeting for the fourth time this season, Harnett Central edged visiting county rival Western Harnett 63-58 in the first round of the Tri-County Six 3-A Conference boys basketball tournament Monday night.
“There’s more times than not where in sports you’re judged by not how badly we got beaten Friday (a 100-72 loss at Triton), but how do you respond to it in the next one,” said Harnett Central coach Will Gage. “I thought our guys bounced back. Did we play perfectly? Heck no. But I’d much rather have the result than be standing here saying, ‘We played great, but unfortunately we lost.’ We played good enough to win. I thought we hit some big shots down the stretch. Western played hard, but we were ready to get back and its good to be on this side. It’s very easy when you play as poorly as we played Friday to come back flat again and I thought we competed. That’s all you can ask of them.”
The Trojans (11-11) went 3-1 in the four games with the Eagles (5-19) this season.
“Central’s a good team with a good coach,” said Western Harnett coach Seth Womble. “They know what they’re doing. They execute what they do well. Another close game. We’ve had a number of those this season, but always seem to be on the wrong end of them. It’s been tough, but I love my guys. I enjoyed coaching them. I love my seniors. They’re going to do good things, whatever they choose to do.”
Senior Justin Perkins recorded a double-double, with 24 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and four blocks, to lead the Trojans.
Fellow seniors Anthony Tomlinson and Tre Williams also scored in double figures. Tomlinson had 16 points, five rebounds and three steals and Williams had 12 points, five rebounds and five assists.
Croix Shipman had seven points and nine rebounds. Richard Edwards had four points, seven rebounds and three blocks.
Senior Tyrese Jones and sophomore Steven Lassiter had 15 points apiece and senior Wesley Lassiter had 11 points to lead the Eagles.
Sean Moore had eight points. Christian Dantzler had four points. Ethan Lank had three points. Christian Fielden had two points.
The game was a constant back-and-forth battle. Western led 12-11 at the end of the first quarter, Central led 27-22 at halftime and 38-36 at the end of the third after Williams hit a three at the buzzer.
Central fed off of the momentum from Williams’ buzzer beater with a 7-2 run to start the fourth, but Western rallied with a 9-2 run, tying the game on a three from Jones.
But Perkins answered with a three of his own that sparked an 11-2 Central run and the Trojans were able to hold off the Eagles down the stretch.
The loss ends Western Harnett’s season, as the Eagles are not projected to make the NCHSAA 3-A state playoffs and brings a close to the high school careers of seniors Tyrese Jones, Sean Moore, Christian Dantzler and Wesley Lassiter.
“We had very coachable players this year,” Womble said. “We didn’t have much depth. But the guys worked hard every day in practice. You can’t ask for more than that. I love this team. I wouldn’t trade them for another team. I enjoyed coaching them. I guess we’ll take a little break and then start working on offseason stuff.”
Womble thought the breakout season sophomore Steven Lassiter had is a good sign for what he’ll bring as a leader in the Eagles’ future.
“If he improves as much as he did between his freshman and sophomore year between his sophomore and junior year, he’s going to gain even more attention,” Womble said. “He’s a guy that’s working hard in the weight room. This is something he loves. He’s got a good family and good support system. I love coaching him. He’s a hard worker and hopefully our guys are learning from him and from that.”
Harnett Central travels to Southern Lee for the second round of the conference tournament on Tuesday and will meet No. 2 seed Lee County, with the winner advancing to Thursday’s championship game at the highest remaining girls tournament seed. Lee won both regular season meetings against Central.
“We’ve been beaten by them twice, so we know that we’re going to have to play well to beat them,” Gage said. “They’re a very athletic team. They shoot the ball well outside. They’ve got size. They’re a good team. But, of course, when you get to this time of the year, you know you’re not going to play cupcakes anyway. To do our best to cover their outside shooters and limit them to one shot I think is going to be a big factor.”