What a difference 10 days makes.
Rock Hill turned the ball over a staggering 35 times in its season-opener, losing 50-46 to Kennedy Charter (N.C.) on Nov. 28. Stewing about it since and still seeking their first win, the Bearcats welcomed Kennedy to their home gym Friday and prepared for a little revenge.
Mission accomplished -- and turnabout is fair play.
The Bearcats forced 26 turnovers and Breon Love shouldered the fourth-quarter load as Rock Hill beat Kennedy 60-53. The Eagles never quit fighting, cutting an 18-point deficit to five with just under 30 seconds left, but the Bearcats took advantage of an intentional foul, overcame the rally and finally walked home a winner.
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"We played very solid defense tonight," coach Bobby Stevens said. "We had a big percentage of being in the right place at the right time."
Rock Hill (1-2) came out swarming defensively, forcing six turnovers in the first four minutes and scoring the game's first 10 points. Kennedy (5-3) weathered the spurt and cut into the lead, but the Bearcats kept up the hounding defense and led 29-22 at the half.
The Bearcats began taking charges and increased their lead to 18 before Kennedy cut it to 31-27 with 4:36 to go in the third. Rock Hill responded with an 8-2 run and led 44-36 at the end of the third quarter.
Love took over, scoring nine of his 13 points in the fourth and flying all over the court for every big play. He swatted one shot, sprinted downcourt, took a pass and laid in the ball in scarcely 10 seconds, also earning a foul.
Love sunk the free throw, the Bearcats survived a late charge from the Eagles and suddenly, the cold weather didn't seem so frigid.
"Breon Love in the second half was the difference in the game," Stevens said. "Mario McCullough (a game-high 19 points) set the first-half tempo and Breon set the second-half tempo."
"Me and Mario been playing together since the seventh grade at Castle Heights," Love said. "We just click together on the chemistry."
The Eagles cut the lead to 58-53 with just under 30 seconds to go before Rock Hill broke the press and got the ball to McCullough. Kennedy's Justin Dixon bear-hugged McCullough, earning an intentional foul, and the two had to be separated after some extracurricular activity after the whistle.
McCullough didn't let it bother him, sinking one free throw and giving the Bearcats enough wiggle room.
"We've got to get better when we're up 18," Stevens said, biting his lip. "But we've got a young team. There's going to be some growing pains."
Rock Hill 60
Kennedy C. 53