The Laurence Manning Academy varsity boys basketball team showed why it is the team to beat out of SCISA Region 2-3A as the region tournament starts Monday at the Sumter County Civic Center.
Both LMA and archrival Wilson Hall got off to quick …
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Both LMA and archrival Wilson Hall got off to quick starts on Friday at LMA's Bubba Davis Gymnasium, but only the 'Cats were able to sustain the pace, pulling away for a 72-53 victory.
Laurence Manning improved to 17-6 on the season and 6-0 in region play. They'll face Florence Christian at 8 p.m. on Monday in the region tournament in Sumter.
Wilson Hall fell to 9-11 overall and 3-3 in region competition. The Barons will face Orangeburg Prep on Monday in the region tournamen.
"For the last several weeks - actually since we played (Wilson Hall) the first time - we have really been extremely unselfish," said LMA head coach Will Epps. "We've got good team chemistry, the kids are enjoying playing together and it shows on the court."
Jerrell Kelly led all scorers in the game with 20 points. Taylor Lee added 16 and Grayson Dennis had 13. Epps pointed to their leadership in the absence of Dawson Hatfield, who has been out with a head injury.
"Since Dawson was injured, the three main guys have been Jerrell, Taylor and Grayson Dennis," Epps said. "Those were the main core and everyone else came in and did their part as well. I think everybody scored."
Friday's game got off to an emotional start when it was agreed to let LMA control the opening toss and allow the still-recovering Hatfield, to score on Senior Night.
Hatfield did one better, taking the tip from Kelly and throwing down a backboard-rattling dunk that got the crowd into it from the very start.
After Wilson Hall was allowed an equalizer, the game got off to a blistering start, with LMA taking a 23-19 first-quarter lead.
The Swampcats rained down eight 3-pointers in the first half, two apiece from Kelly, Dennis and senior Braydon Osteen, to stretch its lead to 46-32 at the half.
"When you shoot the ball that well - our defensive intensity and focus wasn't all that great," Epps said, "but sometimes that happens when you're shooting the ball well maybe you celebrate a little too much."
Chandler Scott kept the Barons in with a hot hand in the first half, burying his first three 3-point baskets and accounting for 11 of his team-leading 15 points.
But LMA matched the Barons trey for trey and gradually built an insurmountable lead.
"I thought we could have played a little better defensively," said Wilson Hall assistant coach Rip Ripley, guiding the Barons during head coach Eddie Talley's recovery. "That's something we've been working on, and we're just trying to create the mindset that we can play better defensively.
"When you give up 70-some points in a high school game, it's tough to win," Ripley said. "We've got some big games ahead of us next week, and I hope we come ready to work. I think we're united in what we want going forward, coming together and playing as a team. I think we've got some work to do in that area."
Epps said he thinks his team is going to be ready as it tries to put an exclamation point on its regular season region title when the region tournament starts Monday.
"We'll come in Sunday and try to sharpen some things up and try to get ready," Epps said. "We play a very talented Florence Christian team. They've struggled in the conference - I'm not sure why - but they've got some really talented players and I'm sure they'll be ready for us and I hope we'll be ready for them."
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