ROCK HILL — The Northwestern student body stormed the Rock Hill High School basketball court, giving the 63-40 victory over the Bearcats a championship feel on Friday night.
Northwestern had good reason to celebrate after leading wire-to-wire against its cross-town rival, which will enter next weeks state playoffs as the second seed from Region 3-AAAA.
The Trojans used a balanced attack with four players reaching double figures in scoring, along with a pesky defense, which baffled Bearcats shooters throughout the contest.
That 3-2 zone has been good to us lately, Northwestern coach Mike Gossett said about his teams defensive effort. I never thought that as a coach, I would be in that much zone as we have been in this season.
But we have fought through a lot and gotten better; we have started to believe in ourselves and we are proud of our seniors to go out in this way with a solid win against their rivals.
Our defense creates offense, Northwestern guard LaThomas Long said. We talked about how team defense would win the game and that is exactly what happened.
Bearcats forward Dionte Fleming grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on the inside for the games opening points, and that was the only time Rock Hill held the lead.
Otherwise, the Trojans dominated with a series of scoring runs, many of which were ignited by forcing Bearcats turnovers.
Rontavious McClure polished off the first scoring surge with consecutive dunks, which got Northwestern off to a 12-4 lead.
Northwestern (12-13, 8-6) went on another surge in the second quarter. Following a jumper from Bearcats guard Nate Motley, Northwestern reeled off nine-straight points for a 26-10 lead. Jaylen Reid scored on the interior to pull the Bearcats within 14 at 30-16. But the Trojans capped a solid half with Mustafia Love picking up the loose ball and soaring for a slam dunk in the closing seconds.
Trailing 36-18, the Bearcats showed signs of a rally when Jaleel Scott sank two free throws and Roderick Howell powered inside for a hoop. That was quickly answered with another Northwestern offensive push.
Guard LaThomas Long converted three straight layups, and Love converted an old-fashion three-point play while being fouled during another inside basket.
Leading by 20 at 45-25 to start the fourth, the Trojans never took their feet off the gas pedal. Each time the Bearcats attempted to show signs of a comeback, Northwestern provided quick responses.
Fleming scored to pull Rock Hill within 17 at 52-35, with 4:49 remaining; but once again, the Trojans dismissed any thoughts of a comeback by closing the contest with an 11-5 run.
Both teams, Northwestern and Rock Hill, will participate in state playoff action, which begins for the Class-AAAA boys on Wednesday.
Rock Hill, the second seed, will host their opening round contest, while Northwestern, a third-seed, will be on the road.
Rock Hill 40
Northwestern Rontavius McClure 12, Mason Rudolph 10, LaThomas Long 13, Mustafia Love 9, JaReg Feely 1, Clenzo Ross 13, Peyton Sosebee 1, Manzi Hill 4.
Rock Hill Nate Motley 14, Jaylen Reid 9, Roderick Howell 2, Jordan McCraw 3, Jaleel Scott 2, Dionte Fleming 6, Jamil Simpson 4..
3-pointers Northwestern 1 (Ross), Rock Hill 2 (Motley, McCraw). Team fouls Northwestern 13, Rock Hill 15. Fouled out None.
Records: Northwestern 12-13, 8-6 in Region 3-AAAA; Rock Hill 18-7, 11-3.