After the Bearcats got the best of White Plains in the semifinals of the Calhoun County Basketball Tournament on Jan. 18, Weaver (20-9) turned around and beat the Wildcats (23-7) on Friday in the first round of the area tournament, 61-54.
“This was a big win,” Bearcats guard Chris English said. “It was a big area win, and it was for bragging rights, too, because they beat us twice earlier in the season.”
Despite the contest having nine lead changes in the first quarter alone, second-seed White Plains extended its 13-12 lead at the end of the first eight minutes to a seven-point lead midway through the second behind the play of Jaylen Hill.
Hill dominated the glass, going into halftime with 10 rebounds, and gave the Wildcats numerous second-chance points as they ultimately took a 27-20 lead into the half.
“We didn’t turn the ball over in the second quarter, and we were able to get the ball to Jaylen,” White Plains coach Chris Randall said. “That was key. I thought we played a good first half and were up seven, but it should have been 11 or 12.”
With White Plains’ lead extending to as many as nine points early in the third, and with Hill recording a double-double at the same time, third-seed Weaver eventually figured out a way to slow down the Wildcats’ offense—the full-court man press.
“Weaver’s pressure in the third was relentless,” Randall said. “I felt like their pressure turned us over and they got easy, fast-break buckets. They turned it into a track meet, and we can’t play that way.”
Weaver’s run, which started with a 33-29 deficit, extended into the fourth quarter after initially taking the lead with 3:38 left in the third. As the two teams entered the final eight mintues, Weaver led 46-35 after outscoring White Plains in the third quarter by 18 points.
“We’re learning how to pull through games, and that’s the maturity of this team,” Weaver coach Daryl Hamby said. “Learning how to be within a good ballgame and all of a sudden being able to pull away. That’s what we did.”
But when the run hit 20-4 for the Bearcats, who led 49-37 at that time, White Plains’ offense suddenly clicked.
Over the next several minutes, Hill led the Wildcats back, scoring the next nine points for White Plains. Following a free throw by Nathan Gilbert, Weaver’s lead was down to 53-49.
“I think we have a tendency of playing what I call ‘prisoner of war’ defense when you have your hands straight up,” Hamby said. “We still want to play with the same intensity as we had or good teams will come back and beat you. We’re lucky we didn’t have that happen tonight.”
And just as quickly as White Plains got back into the game, things came apart, mostly due to turnovers.
“You can live with a travel, and you can live with a double-dribble, but when a pass gets deflected and stays in play, they’re going to get it and lay it up,” Randall said.
As the clock continued to tick, ending White Plains’ season, Weaver continued to hit foul shots, sinking five of eight attempts to end the game.
“You use all that energy to get back into it and take all those chances and then you’re kind of out of gas at the end,” Randall said. “We just didn’t have a whole lot left to finish them off with, and they made free throws down the stretch.”
English, who Randall said was “the best player in the gym,” finished with 30 points, nine steals and seven rebounds after being cleared on Wednesday from a broken hand suffered in the county tournament championship game. Hill finished the night with 30 points and 19 rebounds.
“I’m really proud of the way he never quit and always battled,” Randall said about Hill. “It seemed like he was the only guy that could get it in the hole. He’s got nothing to be ashamed of. Heck of a career for him.”
The win gives Weaver a matchup with fourth-seeded Piedmont, who defeated Saks in the first round, 53-49, after falling in every area game in the regular season.
“You saw they came to play (Friday),” Hamby said. “They will not be intimidated, they’re going to have a lot of confidence, and we have to come ready to play. What worries me more than anything is we beat Piedmont each time we met, and those games are over, they’re going to come ready to play and it’s a whole different Piedmont team. We better be ready to play.”
The Bearcats and five-time defending area tournament champion Bulldogs tip off on Monday at 7 p.m.
Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.