SOUTHERN PINES — It’s a rare sight when the Scotland boys basketball team has a size advantage like it did when it took the court Monday for its first-round matchup against New Life Christian Academy at the Holiday in the Pines tournament.
When that edge was brought up moments after his team won for the second time in three outings and advanced to the second round, Scots coach Matt Justin couldn’t help but crack a smile.
Scotland (3-6) rebounded from a first-quarter deficit to take command in the second half en route to an 80-73 victory at Pinecrest High School. The Scots will take on the host Patriots today at 7:30 p.m. for the right to play in the Holiday in the Pines championship Wednesday night. Pinecrest trounced West Montgomery 72-30 in its first-round tilt.
“From the first quarter on, we started to compete and played with more energy,” Justin said.
The Scots can credit their win thanks to two second-half runs that put away the visitors from Fayetteville. After taking a 32-30 lead into halftime, the Scotland led 40-37 midway through the third quarter before sophomore guard Niem Ratliffe hit two 3-pointers to spark a 10-0 spurt to give the Scots a 50-37 advantage with 2:45 remaining in the period.
Then after the Monarchs closed the gap to 59-57 in the fourth quarter, sophomore guard Justin McRae drilled a key 3-pointer from the left wing to stymie the New Life comeback attempt. The shot sparked a 9-1 run to give Scotland the cushion it needed to close out the win.
“Our sophomores made some plays to ignite those runs,” Justin said.
The 80 points was a season-high for a Scotland team that has struggled offensively for most of the season. The Scots’ top scoring output before Monday came in a 61-46 victory over Union Pines on Nov. 24. Unlike most of Scotland’s opponents, New Life Christian (15-6) sped the game up with its full-court pressure defense. While the Scots committed a couple of unforced errors that drew that ire of Justin and the coaching staff, they otherwise thrived against the Monarchs by making smart decisions with the ball.
“We had some silly turnovers that hurt but overall it was good for our kids to win,” Justin said.
Willie Douglas, a 6-foot-4 senior, was the tallest player on the floor for both teams and used his length to score 16 points. Scotland has struggled for much of the season against athletic teams with size, but the Monarchs presented no such issues. Their tallest starter, Waliek Morris, was 6-foot-3. As a result, Scotland’s guard easily navigated through New Life traps and notched an abundance of points in transition.
Junior guard Tyrese Baucum paced the Scots with 17 points, eight of which came in the fourth quarter. Scotland displayed good balance and depth — Justin said 13 players saw court time. Junior guard Robert Murdock chipped in 11 points, and Ratliffe netted 10.
A trio of scorers helped the Monarchs stay in contention. Rashad Royster tallied a game-high 25 points, Trevon Grant notched 20 and D’Angelo Brown scored 16.
On the other side of the bracket, Mount Zion and Richmond Senior advanced to the semifinals. Mount Zion downed Olympic in the opening game of the tournament, and Richmond followed with a victory over Orange.
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.