The Southern Lee Cavaliers’ season came to an end on Friday night following a hard-fought 80-67 loss to Dudley in the sectional final, and here are a few thoughts on the game.
What a performance by Akeem Richmond. Syracuse and Auburn sent assistant coaches to watch Richmond play last week during the Cape Fear Valley Conference tournament, and he played well, hitting 15 3-pointers in the three games.
But Richmond was a little extra special on Friday night. Like the night before, the Cavaliers faced another deficit, this time, though, it was in a hostile environment against a program that is as accustomed to winning as the New York Yankees.
And Richmond was spectacular, going off for 21 of his 30 points in the second half and scoring 12 straight in a 12-4 run that momentarily tied the game at 51 with 1:12 to go in the third quarter.
It wasn’t enough in the end, but it was fun to watch.
Against a team sporting a starting frontcourt of 6-foot-6, 6-6 and 6-5 — the Panthers’ top reserve was 6-9 — the Cavaliers did a valiant job on the glass, no matter what the final numbers said. Aaron Mellette finished with 10 rebounds and had three blocked shots, giving the Cavaliers enough of an inside presence to be competitive on the road against a team that will be favored to win a state championship. Dudley also missed a ton of layups, and Mellette was around the rim most of the time.
One constant worry for the Cavaliers throughout the playoffs was the potential of foul trouble. And it hurt Southern Lee on Friday night. Mike Mellette had three fouls before the half and was disqualified with 5 minutes left, and Darrell Alston, who was really good all night, also fouled out. That’s a frontcourt player and a lockdown defender who had to play differently than they had all season against a top-ranked team.
Remember the name P.J. Harriston. The 6-6 freshman was unbelievable, one time driving to the hoop and slipping defenders by whipping the ball behind his back and up for a dazzling layup. If he doesn’t take over in the final 72 seconds after Richmond’s binge in the third quarter, there’s no telling how the game might have ended.
Southern Lee ran into some impressive shooters in their playoff run, and Dudley’s Marcus Heath was another of them. He made four 3s in the game, three of which came in the first half as the Panthers built a 12-point edge. Heath’s 3 as time was winding down in the third period capped Dudley’s 8-0 spurt after Richmond’s heroics and was a back-breaker. All 20 of Heath’s points seemed to be big ones.
The Cavaliers will lose some key guys to graduation — Aaron and Mike Mellette and Darrell and Donte Alston among them — but the core returning is a good one. Richmond should enjoy another step in his game’s growth and Chad Taylor and Raymond Brown will add stability and hoops IQ.
Still, it will be tough to replicate the success of the last two seasons. Remember, this is a group that has played virtually all of its competitive basketball together for the last two-to-three years.
Quote of the night: “It was a heckuva year,” said Cavaliers coach Chris Cherry, using a word (heckuva) both coaches couldn’t get away from after the spirited game. “To not have a kid over 6-2 — we kind of fudge a little on the measurements like all basketball coaches do — but to not have a kid over 6-2 and have the success we’ve had in the last two years? That’s pretty remarkable. Two of our losses were to the No. 1 team in the state. There’s nothing to feel bad about.”