One minute and two turnovers into Wednesday night’s county rivalry game, D.H. Conley head coach Rob Maloney felt a timeout was in order.
His message: “Take a deep breath and loosen up and enjoy the atmosphere.”
The Vikings responded, streaking to a 10-1 lead and then answering a late J.H. Rose rally for a 61-57 victory to stay unbeaten in Eastern Carolina 3-A/4-A Conference play. The Wednesday night game, postponed five days due to last week’s winter storm, drew a modest crowd but had students out in force — Conley’s section in a white-out and Rose’s section decked out in camouflage.
The passion of the rivalry carried over to the court with scrappy and sometimes sloppy play and occasional jawing back and forth. That’s why Maloney thought some early intervention might be necessary.
“It’s a rival game, and everybody gets excited, and their hearts beating it seems like 300 beats a minute,” he said. “It wasn’t as much about being an angry coach as it was to reel them in a little but, settle them down because we knew it was going to be a four-quarter game, and it was going to go down to the wire.”
Conley (8-5, 3-0 ECC) had to rally from a three-point deficit in the fourth quarter to pull into a tie for first in the league with unbeaten South Central. Shea Ward’s second three-pointer in a span of 2:04 gave the Vikings the lead for good at 51-49, then they made 8 of 12 free throws in the final 2:53 to hold off Rose (9-4, 1-3).
Jahmois Barnhill, who had 13 first-half points, made 7 of 9 free throws in the fourth period to finish with a team-high 20 points. He made the second of a two-shot foul with 1.2 seconds left to seal it.
“That was huge,” Maloney said. “Jahmois is one of our captains as a junior, and that’s exactly why. He knows how to handle the pressure and looks forward to pressure. In one of our last timeouts, we were trying to draw up what we were going to do if we missed it, and he just looked and said, ‘Don’t worry about it. I’m going to make the free throw,’ and, of course, he made it, and that gave us a four-point lead.”
C.J. Johnson scored all 10 of his points in the second half for Conley. Creighton Lebo led Rose with 21 points, including 11 in the fourth-quarter to help the Rampants take their brief lead. Kiante Goodman added 13 points.
Ben Harris, a 6-5 junior averaging 10.2 points, was limited to four points and did not score from the field.
“Rose is a tough team to prepare for,” Maloney said. “Obviously with Creighton being the sharp-shooter that he is and having a number of other guards… and then you’ve got Harris. We were trying our best to put a lot pressure on the perimeter guys, and we did that, but we knew they were going to get hot, and they did.”
Rose put up 15 more shots put managed to shoot just 35.3 percent (18 of 51). Conley hit a sizzling 58.3 percent (21 of 36) but had 23 turnovers. The Rampants had 19 turnovers. Rose made 6 0f 10 from the free throw line; Conley made 18 of 26.
“We missed so many shots that we should have made,” Rose head coach James Rankins said. “We got what we wanted. We told the guys to press, push the ball up. We pressed and pushed it and miss the layups, which is the highest-percentage shot in the game.
“I don’t take anything away from Conley; they played well,” Rankins said. “They pressured us, they were tough around the basket, which was good for them because we thought we thought we would get an advantage around the basket.”
Conley girls top Rose
Conley’s girls also withstood a Rose rally and pulled away for 57-44 victory to improve 10-3 overall and 3-0 in the ECC.
The Vikings dominated early behind the duo of senior guard Mackena Batts and sophomore forward Jenna Wooten, who combined for 18 points in a little more than a quarter to spark Conley to a 24-9 lead. Batts, shadowed in a box-and-one defense for part of the game, scored half of her 18 points in the first quarter. Wooten finished with 11 points.
The three-point shooting of juniors Amira Brown and Madigan Stockwell rallied Rose (1-13, 0-4) within 32-30 with 6:05 left in the third period, but Conley quickly regained control with a 10-2 run started by a three-pointer from Hikaru Iwata. Batts added a layup off a steal and a three-pointer, and Wooten scored off a rebound.
Freshman Alisha Anderson added consecutive baskets later in the quarter for a 48-34 lead. Anderson and junior Kiara Johnson, who scored seven fourth-quarter points, each finished with nine points.
Conley’s junior varsity teams started a four-game sweep for the home team
The VIkings’ JV girls rolled 34-19 to improve to 7-1. Conley’s JV boys won 49-43.