LAURINBURG — Basketball is a game of runs, but even the casual spectator was probably caught off guard while watching the first half of Scotland’s opening-round playoff game against R.J. Reynolds.
Both teams led by double digits at some point during the opening 16 minutes, and during one stretch the Scots put together a 27-2 run — and yet, they only led by two at intermission.
But the Demons, who entered the game as a No. 19 seed, punctuated its 65-56 upset over the 14th-seeded Scots Tuesday with a decisive 7-2 spurt to come away with a win in the first round of the girls North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs.
“Great game, it’s great to be a part of the state playoffs,” said R.J. Reynolds head coach Johnathan Gainey moments after the victory. “Sad thing is, a good team’s season ends and it had to be one of us. I’m glad it wasn’t us but Scotland is a good team and we’re just fortunate to come out with a win.”
R.J. Reynolds (18-8, 8-4 Central Piedmont Conference) advances to the second round to play No. 3 South Caldwell Thursday while Scotland (17-10, 9-1 Southeastern Conference) sees its season end in the first round of the playoffs for the third straight year.
“You have to give credit where credit is due, (the Demons) were aggressive, they wanted to win the ballgame and they capitalized off of our mistakes,” said Scotland head coach Janie Hodges.
At the onset, it appeared the visitors from Winston-Salem would win going away despite being the lower-seeded squad. After Scotland scored the opening basket, R.J. Reynolds responded with a 17-2 flurry that forced Hodges to burn two timeouts in the game’s first five minutes.
The Demons used a 1-2-2 fullcourt pressure defense to rattle the Scots early, forcing multiple turnovers that created easy transition offense. After Hodges’ second timeout, though, Scotland recollected itself and ended the first quarter on an 8-0 run to get back into the game. Senior Ashlyn Dial, who finished the contest with 14 points, four assists and three steals, refused to let her team go away with eight first-quarter points.
“It’s a game of runs, we were able to make the first one — when (Hodges) called two timeouts I was trying to let our team know this is a good team, it’s not over and sure enough they came back,” Gainey said.
The hosts then opened the second period with 12 straight points before the Demons’ Tierra Wilson finally stopped the bleeding with a free throw. By that point, Scotland had picked apart R.J. Reynolds’ pressure with quick decisions and precise passes in the open court, turning a 17-4 deficit into a 31-19 lead.
However, the Demons recaptured momentum before the break, scoring the final 10 points of the half. Amari Cuthbertson capped the run with a driving layup that she got off just before the buzzer to make it 31-29.
In the second half, Gainey switched the Demons’ defensive look and instead opted for a halfcourt zone. The move paid dividends as the Demons limited center Khasiya Sellers, who scored 12 first-half points and 21 for the game, to zero in the fourth quarter.
“They slowed us down in the second half, went to a zone and they decided to pack it in on Khasiya and we just didn’t capitalize from the outside,” Hodges said. “We weren’t moving the ball which made the zone not have to move.”
Scotland nursed a 46-44 advantage entering the final frame, but R.J. Reynolds took the lead for good with a 12-2 run that spanned more than four minutes. The Scots went scoreless until the 4:05-mark when ShanQaylia Stanton ended the drought with a basket.
Hodges’ team closed a seven-point gap to four with 1:30 left after Amaya Pegues drilled the Scots’ only 3-pointer of the second half, prompting Gainey to call time. He drew up a play for Cuthbertson, who finished with a game-high 26 points, to get the ball and it worked to perfection. The Demons were able to take advantage of an over-aggressive Scots’ defense as Cuthbertson burned her defender for backdoor layup.
“I knew (Scotland) was going to have to press and we made a great pass and it was a great, tough layup so that was really a big basket,” Gainey said.
From there, R.J. Reynolds outscored Scotland 5-2 down the stretch to comfortably seal the victory.
Sellers added 16 rebounds to go along with her 21 points. Stanton chipped in nine points, five assists and four steals. Wilson helped Cuthbertson carry the offensive load, tallying 17 points for the Demons.
“Overall, I don’t think we played our best game but my kids did fight and I’m proud of them for that,” Hodges said.
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.