ROCKINGHAM — For a fifth straight year, the Southeastern Conference girls basketball championship will reside in Laurinburg.
This season, however, Scotland will share the crown with a fellow conference rival.
The Scots defeated Richmond Senior 52-46 in the regular-season finale Saturday in a performance that was far from picturesque, but it was a vital win that lifted Janie Hodges’ program to another SEC title.
With the victory, Scotland (16-8, 9-1 SEC) forced a tie atop the conference standings with Lumberton, which also ended the year at 9-1 after routing Purnell Swett 64-18 on Friday.
On Sunday, officials for Scotland and Lumberton convened for a coin flip that would determine which school would earn the No. 1 seed in this week’s conference tournament. Scotland won the toss, ensuring it would have home-court advantage throughout the SEC tourney while Lumberton settled for the No. 2 seed. The Scots and Pirates split their two regular season meetings with each winning at home.
But Scotland’s place at the summit of the SEC was put in serious jeopardy during its tilt against Richmond (8-11, 3-7 SEC) — the Scots blew a 12-point fourth quarter lead and trailed by one with less than three minutes remaining.
“They weren’t focused and they weren’t mentally prepared, and it showed later in the game,” Hodges said of her girls after the Scots escaped with the win. “We were able to capitalize on their turnovers early in the game but we got lax, and you can’t give a team hope like Richmond. They played hard and it’s they’re senior night, they weren’t going to go down without a fight.”
ShanQaylia Stanton, who finished with a game-high 21 points for the Scots, hit a layup with 2:58 left to end her team’s drought and put Scotland back on top, 43-42.
After both teams traded a pair of 2-pointers, the Scots forced a stop and Amaya Pegues was fouled with one minute remaining. The sophomore sank two clutch free throws to give the visitors a three-point cushion, but Richmond’s Zelda McLaughlin, who paced the Raiders with 16 points, hit a shot in the point to close the gap to one.
Richmond, which forced Scotland to commit 29 turnovers, used a full-court pressure defense in an attempt to coerce the Scots into giving away another possession, but Stanton dribbled through the press and found Khasiya Sellers underneath the basket for a layup. That timely bucket made it 49-46, and the Raiders misfired on two 3-pointers down the stretch that could have kept them in it.
Sellers drilled one of two shots from the charity stripe to make it a two-possession game, and Stanton added a pair of free throws in the final seconds to ice the victory.
“I’m excited that we got a win, I just wish it could have been in better fashion,” Hodges said. “We got lucky to get the win.”
Sellers tallied 15 points and 12 rebounds, and Ashlyn Dial chipped in 11 points, four rebounds and three assists.
Scotland will return to the court Wednesday when it hosts the winner of tonight’s first-round matchup between Pinecrest and Richmond. The Patriots and Raiders were supposed to play Monday, but the game was pushed back to today due to inclement weather.
Tipoff at Scotland gym is scheduled for 7 p.m.
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.