Sophomores Kalem Johnson and Cameron Lovelace took exception to a local newspaper that called Trishtan Johnson and Jamelle Lowery the best guard combo in the Southern Piedmont.
And they played like it. Johnson and Lovelace combined for 32 points to help give the Ironmen an inside track to the first SP title with a 62-53 victory on East Lincolnâ€™s home floor.
Johnson, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound shooting guard, scored six consecutive points out of the locker room in the third quarter.
â€œMy coach (Harrill) told me to step it up. He told me first half I only had two points and two fouls, so he told me to, â€˜step it up and drive and canâ€™t nobody stop me,â€™â€ Johnson said.
â€œMy friends Cameron (Lovelace) and Pooh (Antonio Griggs) told me canâ€™t nobody stop me, so I just drove to the basket,â€ he added.
The outburst was part of a 12-2 run that gave Cherryville a 41-32 lead midway through the third quarter, giving them firm control of the ballgame.
But the Mustangs refused to go quietly. Down 16 with two minutes remaining, the team went on an 11-2 run of their own to narrow the gap.
An Alex Newsome layup drew East Lincoln within six at 59-53. Thatâ€™s as close as they would come as the Ironmen iced the victory with pair of Jasmine Brooksâ€™ free throws and a Lovelace free throw.
Lovelace, who paced Cherryville with 18 points, played like he had something to prove.
Itâ€™s not that Lovelace and Johnson donâ€™t recognize Lowery and Trishtan Johnson as great players, they just feel like maybe they donâ€™t receive the proper amount of publicity for their play.
â€œWeâ€™re the same as them. Me and Kalem shoot all the time. On the weekends, weâ€™re always shooting. We kind of took it personally to stop both of them and both of us step up,â€ Lovelace said. â€œThatâ€™s just what we had to do to win, so we just put two and two together and came away with the win.â€
Lowery led the Mustangs in scoring with 20, while Johnson added 15 despite only scoring two in the first half.
Cherryville head coach Scott Harrill, although aware of how personally Lovelace and Johnson took the head-to-head match-up, feels any recognition the Mustangs duo receive is just.
â€œOur two guards they took it to heart because Lowery and Johnson get a lot of press and deservingly so. Theyâ€™re two of the best guards youâ€™ll find on a high school basketball team,â€ he said.
Harrill was particularly pleased with the job Antonio Griggs did to limit Johnsonâ€™s impact on the game.
â€œGriggs played (Trishtan) Johnson tremendously. Heâ€™s been our defensive stopper for four years and he likes those challenges. Heâ€™s going to get the other teamâ€™s top scorer every game,â€ he said.
Griggs also made his mark on offense, scoring 13 points and ripping down eight rebounds.
In feeling-out process, the two Southern Piedmont powers turned the ball over 17 times (combined) in the first quarter alone. The Ironmen had 10 turnovers, while the Mustangs had seven.
The first two quarters of play also saw 13 lead changes and three ties.
Despite trailing by one at the break, Harrillâ€™s halftime message was to stick with the game plan.
â€œWe talked about at the half just doing the same things weâ€™ve worked on in practice, nothing different just keep the game plan,â€ he said. â€œFull-court pressure on the ball and running on offense.â€
Cherryville ups its record to 14-1 on the season with a 5-0 mark in the Southern Piedmont, while East Lincoln falls to 11-4, 4-1 SP.
Up next for the Mustangs is Lincoln County rival North Lincoln on the Knightsâ€™ home floor Friday night.
While the win undoubtedly puts the Ironmen in the driverâ€™s seat for the conference title. Harrill knows his team canâ€™t put the buggy in front of the horse.
â€œLincolnton is still a challenge. They have an athletic team, so weâ€™ll take them one game at a time and see where we end up at the end of the year,â€ he said.
Phenom sophomore Justin Johnson was held in check by the 6-foot-7 Newsome and freshman Keith Rendleman as he managed just six points and often appeared frustrated.
The off-night for Johnson will likely be an aberration in what appears to be an extremely bright future.
For Newsome, it was another feather in his cap that is without-warning becoming full of them, as he and North Lincoln sophomore continue to battle it out for top big man in Lincoln County.
Point Gaurd Cameron Lovelace goes up-and-under sophomore Alex Newsome in Tuesday nightâ€™s game. Chris Dean / LTN Photo
by John Mark Brooks