Trojan guard LaThomas Long said a recent message delivered from coach Mike Gossett rang clearly in their ears during the closing minutes of Friday's crosstown rivalry contest between Northwestern and South Pointe.
"After we lost the other night, coach told us that not being able to make free throws cost us the game," Long said. "So we shot plenty of free throws in practice the next couple of days and really concentrated on that."
On Friday, it was a case of practice-makes-perfect as the Trojans sank 10-of-12 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter, including 8-of-10 in the final 3:00 to pull away with the 65-55 victory at Northwestern.
Long, who made 7-of-8 free throws in the fourth for a season and career-high 17 points, played a crucial role during a third-quarter spurt, which gave Northwestern momentum after trailing by two at the half.
Trailing 25-23, Northwestern scored 15 of the first 17 points in the third quarter. Keith Bell, Julius Durman, and Long swished 3-point jumpers in consecutive possessions. Durman and Bell ended the run with lay-ups and a 38-27 Trojan advantage with 2:20 on the third-quarter clock.
From that point, the Stallions faced an uphill climb, but did pull to within seven, 42-35, after Manzey Miller connected on a long jumper from beyond the 3-point arc.
"The third quarter is what hurt us tonight," South Pointe coach Dwayne Hartsoe said. "We just came out flat; we made a couple of turnovers during that stretch and they capitalized and got momentum."
South Pointe did close to within six, 53-47, as Ty'Reece Brice sank four free throws after being fouled on consecutive possessions. Following a Trojan lay-up from Jontae McMillan, the Stallions kept pace when Miller answered with a drive and lay-up at the 1:36 mark.
Both teams traded turnovers as the pace quickened, but Northwestern guard Rontavious McClure scored on a wide-open layup after the Trojans controlled a loose ball at midcourt. During the play, a technical foul was whistled against the Stallions and Northwestern capitalized at the two free throws for a 10-point, 59-49, lead with 1:07 remaining.
Northwestern was able to maintain the double-digit advantage with clutch foul shooting down the stretch.
"We were able to make adjustments to their half-court press," Gossett said about solid play in the third and fourth quarters. "We did a better job rebounding and we were able to make open shots and our free-throws down the stretch."
Northwestern and South Pointe will open play in their respective regions next week. The Trojans are scheduled to host Clover on Wednesday, while South Pointe will be home against Fort Mill on Monday.
SOUTH POINTE 55
SOUTH POINTE -- Manzey Miller 11, Cody Blake 5, Devin Truesdale 12, Zaza Williams 8, TyReece Brice 8, P.J. Heath 3, Tay Hicklin 2, Unadie McMillan 2, Gerald Dixon 2.
NORTHWESTERN -- Jontae McMillan 4, LaThomas Long 17, Jalen Orr 8, Montrece Kennedy 8, Keith Bell 10, Julius Durham 5, Rontavius McClure 11, Stuart Hunt 2.
3-pointers -- South Pointe 2 (Truesdale 1, Miller 1); Northwestern 4 (Long 2, Bell 1, Durham 1). Fouled out -- South Pointe 2-Miller, Heath, Northwestern-None. Total fouls -- South Pointe 20, Northwestern 17.
RECORDS: South Pointe 3-7, Northwestern 8-6.