Changes by Tigers result in playoff win
By By LAWRENCE KEECH, Staff Writer
HAMPSTED -- Williamston head coach Steve Gilmore was looking like a coaching master after Wednesday night's game against Topsail High School in the second round of the Class 1-A state basketball playoffs.
Gilmore's team was getting picked apart by the Pirates' pick-and-go offense in the first half, but a trio of coaching decisions changed the outcome and gave Williamston a 54-44 win and a lot of confidence.
Williamston travels to Perquimans to play in the section 4 finals. The winner of that game advances to the Eastern Regionals next week in Greenville.
Williamston fell behind 31-23 late in the first half, was having trouble with its outside shots, had committed eight turnovers and was having a miserable time rebounding.
Just to make matters worse, Jon Batts was 5-for-5 early in the second quarter and 9-of-12 in the first half for 19 points for Topsail, a team that was thought to be out of the state playoffs due to an ineligible player. The team found out Tuesday that the player was eligible, setting up Wednesday's game.
Batts was averaging just 6.6 points per game coming into the contest and had only hit double figures twice this season. His highest point total came two games ago, when he had 18 against North Brunswick in the conference tournament.
Gilmore gave a brief speech to his players at half time, before making his changes.
Gilmore moved Monyell Harris to guard Batts.
The second part of the plan was to speed the tempo up. The officials were not calling many fouls, despite some physical play, and Topsail was running a finesse offense. The Pirates' spread offense featured multiple screens and flashes to the basket, but kicked the ball around plenty as players took their time looking for open shots.
Gilmore switched his team to a tighter press and used the lack of whistles to make more attempts at steals.
The initial pair of changes worked. Batts took just two shots in the second half and missed both. Meanwhile, the Tigers got three steals, blocked four shots and forced the Pirates to triple their number of turnovers from the first half.
That resulted, in part, to a 10-2 run by Williamston, which came on 4-of-5 shooting early in the third quarter to tie the game then gave the Tigers a 35-33 lead.
The game was tied again at 37-all. The lead grew to four with 3:54 to play.
Then Gilmore made this third change. He started running Topsail's offense -- having his players set up a series of screens and flashes to the basket. However, instead of taking sometimes easy-looking shots, the Tigers kicked the ball back out to the top of the key and ran the formation again.
The move worked as the clock ran down more than a minute. Two plays later, it worked again -- this time taking just under a minute off.
Topsail coaches and fans were screaming for their players to foul, but it was too late. The Tigers' lead had grown to eight and they were answering all of the Pirates' scoring attempts with baskets of their own.
Williamston more than tripled its third-quarter rebounding with 16 in the final frame and connected on 7-of-15 shots. Topsail had seven boards, having averaged eight in the previous three frames, but was 2-of-10 from the floor.
The Pirates were 5-of-21 in the second half and 13-of-29 in the first. Williamston was 13-of-26 in the second half and 10-of-23 in the first.
Harris had 12 assists. James House finished with 10 rebounds and Tyrell Short added another 13 boards and 10 points, along with five blocks.
Harris 3, Coley 5, Tavarus Little 10, Leathers 4, House, Benson Wiggins 12, Tyrell Short 10, Shack 2.
Jon Batts 19, T. Upham 5, Sidburg 6, Collotzi, Ward 9, Turner, Majette 2, Murphy 3.
Williamston 12 13 12 17 -- 54
Topsail 11 20 6 7 -- 44