ROCK HILL — South Pointe boys coach Melvin Watson can relate to the plight of Northwestern coach Mike Gossett.
Missing basketball players for the first two weeks of the season because of the Trojans run to the football state championship game, Gossetts team started 0-6. The players returned last week, but 6-foot-6 standout Rontavious McClure then left for another week to play in the Shrine Bowl. Watson went through a similar situation last year when the Stallions won the Class AAA football title.
But dont confuse empathy with sympathy.
Friday night, Watsons Stallions jumped on the visiting Trojans from the get-go en route to a 61-40 crosstown rivalry win. The victory improved the home team to 6-0 overall and 2-0 in Region 3 play.
I thought our defensive pressure set the tone early, Watson said afterward. Both teams never really settled into a rhythm because of the fouls that were being called, but overall my guys did a pretty good job of sustaining the lead.
Manzi Hill was Northwesterns only double-digit scorer with 11, while P.J. Heath led the Stallions with 15 points, and Marveon Mobley kicked in 13 points off the bench. Watson credited Mobley with jump-starting South Pointe in a game that they generally led by double digits throughout.
He made some really good plays, and really was the spark we needed to give us that comfortable lead early.
South Pointe ruthlessly took advantage of Northwesterns casual start to the contest in a steamy crock pot of a gym. The Trojans (2-8, 0-2) coughed it up three times in the first two minutes, Heath punctuating the third with a thumping flush in transition to make it 6-1. Mobley checked into the game and quickly made an impact for the Stallions, burying a pair of threes from the corner before Tay Blakes layup elicited a timeout from a fed-up Gossett on the Northwestern bench. South Pointe led 18-4 at that point, and though Will Chitwood canned a triple for the Trojans at the quarter buzzer, the hosts still led 20-8.
The Stallions grew their lead to 16 points in the second quarter. Junior guard Tyreece Brice scored seven in the second quarter. Though Watsons crew missed several chances to add to the lead in the last minute, they went into the locker room with plenty of bounce and a 36-20 lead.
With McClure absent, the Trojans struggled to contain South Pointes springy inside pair of Anthony Johnson and Heath. Early in the second half, Johnson eradicated any thoughts of a slow start by the hosts, escaping a box-out for an offensive board and put-back slam to make it 38-22.
We knew we should have the advantage inside with Ron being at the Shrine Bowl, Watson said. I felt this was a game we must win, because when he comes back and coach (Gossett) gets his team full-time, hes gonna be really good. Theyll be a playoff team.
Northwestern finally showed some vital signs with an 8-0 run led by LaThomas Long who had four points and two assists in the spurt to cut the Stallion lead to 39-30 with three minutes left in the third quarter. But that was as close as the visitors would get, Watsons team ably denying the Trojans half-baked comeback attempts. Johnson pinned a pair of exclamation points on the win with a steal and slam, before tossing another steal off the backboard for Heath to stuff home to the delight of the crowd.
Highlights aside, Watson was more pleased that his team is still undefeated midway through December.
I feel very good, he said. I think our region is really good from top to bottom and theres some teams that are much better than people are giving them credit for.
South Pointe 61, Northwestern 40
Northwestern: Mason Rudolph 3, LaThomas Long 8, Ahmad Dewese 3, Mustafia Love 4, Will Chitwood 9, Clenzo Ross 4, Manzi Hill 11; South Pointe: Tay Blake 10, P.J. Heath 15, Chris Frazier 2, Tyreece Brice 9, Anthony Johnson 6, Marveon Mobley 13, Montez McCullough 4, Justin Hart 2. Three-pointers: Northwestern 1 (Chitwood); South Pointe 4 (Mobley 2, Brice, Blake). Free throws: Northwestern 16-23; South Pointe 13-20; Team fouls: Northwestern 17; South Pointe 22; Fouled out: Manzi Hill (Northwestern); Montez McCullough (South Pointe).