James Kenan is starting to understand that concept following three victories that were low-scoring and competitive from beginning to end.
The Tigers latest low-frill thriller was a 37-26 win last Friday against ECC and Duplin County rival East Duplin.
This one was not about shooting percentages, rebound margins or turnovers. It was about finding a way to win at home in front of a loud East Duplin student body.
“I told our kids (when the officials tried to keep Panther students off the edge of the court) that this is what the game is all about,” said Tiger second-year coach Taylor Jones, who coached for more than a decade at Spring Creek. “I’ve coached long enough to know good teams find ways to win ugly games.
“We didn’t play well Wednesday night (a 54-50 win over South Lenoir), but this was a very intense and tough conference game, (in) which I thought we played defense well all night.”
There were nine lead changes heading into the third quarter when the Tigers made a break from the Panthers via a 3-pointer and two free throws by Andrew Kornegay and two driving layups by Jamaury Coe.
The 9-4 run gave JK a 27-20 lead and momentum heading into the final eight minutes.
Andrew Pender’s Euro-step layup started the quarter. It was the beginning of what would be an offensive show, despite the boys were outscored by the girls game that preceded it.
Yet this one didn’t lack for excitement, even though East Duplin’s shooting woes never stopped. Many times the missed shots came because a Tiger had a hand in front of the shooter’s face.
JK has won its previous three games by a margin of 46.4 to 39.3. So the “win ugly” pattern is there.
ED came back to show a small amount of offense following its two-point output in the third quarter.
Brecken Bowles hit an inside shot and Teyshawn Johnson drained a free throw. But Mason Brown scored on a nice cut in the lane and Kornegay threaded a perfect pass for Aiden Venecia’s short jumper.
ED countered with a Jesse Clinesmith end-to-end bucket and a free throw.
But Venecia scored down low and a no-look pass from Brown for the final basket of the night.
Teyshawn Johnson, who paced East Duplin with 11 points, hit three 3-pointers in the opening quarter to give his team an 11-7 advantage.
Pender, Bowles and Marcus Baysden added hoops for JK, yet it seemed the two teams had more blocks and steals than points. Early-on it looked like East Duplin was showing up to win the game.
Baysden and Danny Forsythe gave Kenan a 12-11 lead, and there were three more ties and two lead changes before Mason Marshburn and Jesse Clinesmith each hit a pair of free throws to give the visitors an 18-16 halftime edge.
“We couldn’t make shots,” said Panthers’ coach Blake Lanier, who just returned to coaching after being out for COVID-10 protocol. “Maybe it was because I wasn’t at practice, but our shooting and shot selection was poor.
“We needed to get some easy baskets in transition and were unable to convert on the few that we had. We just didn’t get in there and make something happen. We’ve been very inconsistent.”
James Kenan got what opposing coach Lanier wanted: a few key scores in transition in the third quarter.
“We finally got reward for our defense,” Jones said. “We got real aggressive on the defensive end in the third and fourth quarters and I think we won the battle on the glass (rebounding), which has been an Achilles’ heel for us this year. We moved our feet and kept the ball in front of us.”
James Kenan has won the past four games in the series. It was the Tigers’ (6-6, 2-1) third straight win and the second loss in three games for East Duplin (6-4, 1-1). The teams tangle in Beulaville on Jan. 21.
Both will play Duplin’s other 2A school, Wallace-Rose Hill (3-2, 1-0), before that encounter. The Panthers travel to the play the Bulldogs on Steve Robinson Court on Friday.
Kenan has games against North Lenoir (5-9, 1-1) and Southwest Onslow (5-9, 1-3) before hosting WRH on Jan. 18.
It’s pretty entertaining to watch Mason Brown, JK’s 6-foot-6 center bring the ball up court, and he is so skilled he does that regularly. A wrist injury from football forced Brown to miss a few early games.
Panther point guard Daunte Hall struggled all night to find his rhythm – in just about every aspect of his game, sans his hustle. Bowles, too, was held in check and frustrated.
Meanwhile, Venecia had one of his better games. Kornegay did not on the whole, but played through his woes to perform much better in the second half.
Both teams shot poorly on a night when most shots were contested.
East Duplin’s entire team is made up of juniors. Davan Brown, a player who appeared to be on the rise, has left the team.