SEC boys basketball race nip and tuck entering home stretch

By Logan Martinez - [email protected]

The Southeastern Conference basketball schedule is rapidly approaching its conclusion. Including tonight’s contests, there are only three games remaining for each conference school, and the regular-season finale is slated for next Friday barring any unforeseen schedule changes.

On the girls’ side, the quest for an SEC championship will likely come down to two schools — Lumberton and Scotland. The Pirates wield a 7-0 conference record and they have already bested the Scots once this season, winning 59-52 in Lumberton on Jan. 27. The Scots are one game behind at 6-1 but if both teams win today, Scotland will have a chance to force a tie atop the conference standings Tuesday when it welcomes Lumberton to Laurinburg for the rematch.

Hoke, which is 4-3 in conference play, will look to play spoiler tonight when it hosts Scotland. The Bucks are all but eliminated from title contention after they were swept by Lumberton in the season series. The only scenario that involves Hoke potentially earning a share of the SEC crown is this: The Bucks would need to win out and hope Lumberton loses its final three games, and Scotland would need to drop two of its last three contests. That would leave all three schools with 7-3 conference records at season’s end.

The Scots won the first meeting against the Bucks, 51-32, on Jan. 19.

Things are much more convoluted on the boys’ side — five of the six conference schools are within two games of one another with three games remaining.

Scotland and Pinecrest are tied at the top of the SEC standings with 5-2 marks. The Scots and Patriots split their two meetings during the conference portion of their schedules, but Pinecrest holds the tiebreaker over Scotland because of its 50-41 victory in the Holiday in the Pines tournament on Dec. 29. Although that counted as a non-conference victory, the win could prove pivotal for the Patriots should they find themselves tied with the Scots at the conclusion of the regular season.

Scotland will hit the road for two of its final three games — the Scots will travel to Raeford tonight to battle Hoke, then return home Tuesday to play Lumberton. Scotland concludes its regular season Friday at Richmond Senior.

Matt Justin’s squad defeated the Bucks 67-56 in their first meeting on Jan. 19, and they edged the Pirates in overtime, 72-69, on Jan. 27. Another tiebreaker scenario, albeit one that could potentially favor Scotland, could come into play if it finds itself with the same record as Richmond.

The Raiders cruised to a 112-81 victory during their conference tilt with the Scots on Jan. 27, and should they win the rematch in Rockingham next Friday, then they would own the tiebreaker. But if Scotland comes out on top, it would own the tiebreaker advantage because the Scots defeated the Raiders 94-85 in the Holiday in the Pines tournament on Dec. 30.

Pinecrest will play away from Southern Pines for its next two games, traveling to play Purnell Swett tonight before making the trek down US-1 to Rockingham Tuesday to take on the Raiders. The Patriots dominated the winless-in-the-SEC Rams 75-36 in their first meeting on Jan. 9, but they had a much tougher time putting away the Raiders, winning 96-95 in overtime on Jan. 21.

Pinecrest wraps up its conference schedule next Friday when it plays host to Hoke. The Patriots survived to beat the Bucks in double overtime, 70-61, in Raeford on Jan. 26.

Hoke and Richmond trail Scotland and Pinecrest by one game as both teams are 4-3 in the SEC. The Bucks swept the season series from the Raiders and thus hold the all-important tiebreaker should it come into play.

Hoke has the benefit of hosting two of its last three games, including tonight when it welcomes Scotland to Raeford for a critical rematch. The Bucks will then play Purnell Swett Tuesday before ending the year in Southern Pines when it challenges Pinecrest. Hoke easily dispatched the Rams in the first meeting on Jan. 21, winning 82-53.

Richmond has perhaps the toughest remaining schedule of the SEC schools still in contention, but it does get to play two games at home. The Raiders will embark east to Robeson County tonight for a tricky road game at Lumberton, which has won its last two conference games. Richmond sank the Pirates the last time the two took the same court on Jan. 19, winning 102-92.

The Raiders will then play host to Pinecrest and Scotland during the final week of the regular season.

Lumberton has an outside shot at capturing the conference, but it would need to win out and hope for some help. The Pirates’ next pair of contests are against Richmond and Scotland which are teams Lumberton has lost to this year. But the Pirates already avenged defeats to Pinecrest and Hoke by winning the rematches, and they would love nothing more than for history to repeat itself against the Raiders and Scots.

Lumberton also has the benefit of playing Purnell Swett — the Pirates rolled the Rams 85-65 that last time the two rivals met on Jan. 26.

Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.

By Logan Martinez

[email protected]

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