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Northeast rallies by PCA

MERRY HILL – Northeast Academy’s boys basketball team put on a furious fourth quarter rally to erase an 11-point deficit and downed Pungo Christian Academy, 53-50, in the first round on opening night of the fourth annual Lt. Nick Brantley Tournament at Lawrence Academy.

Davis Harrell’s steal and lay-up with 36 seconds left gave the Eagles their first lead of the second half at 51-50 then James Pope added two more free throws to make first-year coach Lance Jenkins a winner in his first game.

“All I’ve asked them to do is work hard,” said an emotional Jenkins after the win, “and they proved that tonight by showing me that good teams handle adversity and doing it in the closing minutes of games.”

Pope finished with 19 points to lead a balanced scoring attack from the Eagles. Joseph Brady led Pungo with 18.

The Raiders raced out to an 8-2 lead to open the contest thanks to a pressure half-court defense that forced Northeast into turnovers that Pungo converted into easy lay-ups. Braddy capped the Pungo scoring run with the first three-pointer of the game.

Northeast got jump shots from Pope and Judd Smith and a pair of free throws to pull within two at 9-7 before Pungo closed out the quarter on a turnaround baseline jumper from Zach Credle and it was 11-7 following the first eight minutes of play.

Northeast went on a 10-4 run to open the second quarter and take their first lead of the game, 17-16, at the four minute mark when Brad Johnson hit a fadeaway jumper off a screen.

But Pungo came right back on the next possession to reclaim the lead when Forrest Howell backed down a pair of Northeast defenders with a nice low-post move and made it 18-17 and the Raiders never lost the lead for the rest of the half, going into the locker-room ahead, 22-21.

After a Braddy lay-up to open the second half, Northeast got a jumper in the lane from Clay Robbins and a baseline jumper from Johnson to re-take the lead, 25-24 at the six-minute mark. Neither team could pull away and it was 30-29 when Pungo went on a 7-0 run to lead it 37-29 before Johnson came back with another baseline jump shot to break the Raiders’ streak.

Pungo was ahead by nine, 41-32, before Northeast ended the quarter on a three-pointer from Smith and only trailed the Raiders by six, 41-35, entering the final quarter.

Lay-ups by Credle and Braddy gave Pungo a 10-point lead, 45-35, in the opening minutes of the final stanza and despite Northeast’s best efforts to cut the lead below double-digits, Pungo answered thanks to key offensive rebounding and penetrating the Northeast 2-3 zone.

When Northeast finally got it down to eight at 47-39, Pungo answered with a three-pointer from Braddy. But it would be the last field-goal the Raiders would score and their last points of the half.

Northeast went to work: starting with a pair of free throws from Johnson before Jenkins called time out with just over two minutes to play.

“I told them in that break that they would see now how running instead scrimmaging when we practice would pay off,” said Jenkins. “I knew down the stretch if we out-hustled this team we could win it.”

With the score 50-41, Pungo, after the timeout, the Eagles got two low-post lay-ups and were suddenly down five with 1:50 left to play. Jenkins kept working the ball inside to really pressure the Raiders as Northeast marched time after time to the free throw line, making six out of their final seven attempts at the charity stripe.

They made three in a row to trail by one with 1:15 showing on the clock before Harrell’s steal and lay-up seized command of the game and propelled the Eagles on to the win.

“I guess we had a communication problem,” said Pungo coach Jason Blanton. “Instead of controlling the ball with the lead, we shot a lot of garbage three-pointers and they capitalized by getting us in foul trouble beneath the glass.

“I felt this one was ours to have,” he added, shaking his head. “But give Northeast credit because they hustled down the stretch. We’ve got to either learn from this, or we’ll just keep on losing.”

Northeast now advanced to Wednesday semi-final at Ridgecroft against Lawrence Academy, while Pungo faces Bethel Christian in Thursday’s consolation game, also at Ridgecroft School.