A few quick hits about Southern Lee’s 71-67 first-round playoff win over Western Guilford on Tuesday night.
If you’ve followed a lot of basketball, you’ve probably often heard the repeated adage that the game is all about matchups.
Well, Tuesday night’s game was a bad matchup for the Southern Lee Cavaliers.
Western Guilford was barely a .500 team when it came to Sanford to play the Cape Fear Valley Conference champions, but the Hornets left with a different reputation entirely.
Smaller than the Cavaliers, the Hornets were actually quicker than Southern Lee. Not only did they essentially nullify the Cavaliers’ breakneck full-court press, they used it to their advantage. Point guard Ryan McLaughlin was the fastest player on the court — usually somebody wearing a Cavaliers’ jersey has that distinction whenever Southern Lee is playing — and he ate the Cavaliers alive at times. He could grab a long rebound and go coast-to-coast and finish with a layup, or he could slice a double-team before it got there and kick it out to an open shooter. He did both often.
McLaughlin was so good on Tuesday night that Southern Lee coach Chris Cherry backed off a bit on his press, going with a full-court man-to-man set instead.
Will the Cavaliers face another team this postseason quicker than they are? Maybe, maybe not. But a speedy point and a dead-eye shooter were almost enough to knock them off on this night.
All that said, let’s give Southern Lee some credit here. The Cavaliers did win the game, and it was the first time they had been tested in about two months. Southern Lee has now won 14 straight games, and while most of those games were won in blowouts, it was good to see the Cavaliers win a nail-biter down the stretch.
The game was there for the Hornets, but the Cavaliers wouldn’t let them have it. Raymond Brown was sensational off the bench again, hitting a 3 that probably had everybody shouting “NO!” until it swished through. Aaron Mellette had a huge dribble-drive for a bucket to push the Cavaliers to a six-point edge with 1:15 to go, and that came after Big A had pulled down a big defensive rebound on the other end. Brown also had a couple of critical defensive boards, but his biggest play may have been his sit-down rebound and dish to Mike Mellette for an easy deuce to make it a three-point game again with under 2 minutes to go.
Southern Lee needed some big plays down the stretch, and it got them.
Three different coaches told Cherry coming into the game that Western Guilford wasn’t a good shooting team. So what happens? Jordan Williams buries six 3-pointers and the team hits nine from long range. Sometimes it just happens like that.
One thing that got Cherry’s goat after the game was the fact that the Cavaliers weren’t as efficient on offense as they had been lately. Southern Lee’s halfcourt set recently has been as good as their up-tempo stuff, with players moving the ball around the offense quickly and making the extra pass inside for an easier basket.
That didn’t happen against Western Guilford, and Southern Lee suffered for it. Part of it was because Western Guilford was athletic enough to keep the Cavaliers from penetrating the paint. But part of it was poor shot selection.
“People who are not shooters need to pass the ball to our shooters,” Cherry said. “We need to make the extra pass. We’ve been doing that well, but we didn’t do that (Tuesday night).”
Akeem Richmond said following the game that Cherry was none too happy in the locker room at the half with the Cavaliers’ performance, and told his team so in no uncertain terms.
It would not be surprising to see a few minor alterations to the starting lineup come Thursday night in an effort to shake things up.