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At random times, the 2018-19 edition of the Southern Nash High varsity boys basketball team will transform from a team that struggles to connect from long range to an outfit that simply can’t miss.
Friday night against 3-A Big East Conference foe Hunt, the Firebirds assumed the role of the latter again, this time getting the output from an unexpected source.
Senior Artavius Allen knocked down seven of Southern Nash’s 10 3-pointers en route to a career-high 27 points, paving the way to a season sweep of the Warriors in a 67-62 victory. It was the fourth straight win for Southern (12-8, 4-4 Big East) against Hunt dating back to last season. Hunt, which lost control of a key seeding tiebreaker via the head-to-head sweep, fell to 12-6 in all games and 4-3 in conference play.
“He’s had the ability,” Southern Nash head coach Robbie Kennedy said of Allen. “He’s the type of kid that you’ve got to love him, because he’ll drive you crazy. Then he’ll come up, hug your neck and tell you he’s sorry, tell you he loves you. He’s grown up a lot. We’ve known he’s a good basketball player, but he had to grow up. This year, he’s done a good job. The more he plays, the more confidence he gets.”
In a 55-45 win at Hunt on Jan. 15, the Firebirds rode an effective zone defense and poor Warriors shooting to a win. They had to sweat this outcome out a little more despite Allen’s outburst, as the Warriors climbed to within one possession on three occasions inside the final 90 seconds.
Allen, despite his career-high outburst, didn’t score in the fourth quarter as one of Southern Nash’s primary ball handers. But with the exception of one ill-advised shot up 63-58 with 1:38 to play, he didn’t tempt fate by hoisting up quick shots from beyond the arc and allowing Hunt runouts.
“Coach K just said go in there and keep shooting,” Allen said. “So that’s what I did. I was feeling hot, and it kept coming.”
A 30-point night from the senior went by the wayside after an Allen trey was disallowed in the third quarter following an offensive goal-tending call.
“They had a hot shooter tonight,” Hunt head coach Dwight Taylor said. “He shot the ball well. Initially, they were focused on our shooters out there and they were kind of leaving the middle open. Once we found out what they were doing, we went inside.”
With Southern Nash remaining committed to a zone defense, Hunt did attempt to expose the middle with 6-foot-3 freshman Davon Jones and 6-4 senior forward Zion May. Jones was effective in particular, getting a double-double of 23 points and 11 rebounds. May added 13 points and eight boards, and his layup with 1:28 to go left Hunt, which trailed by as many as nine in the fourth quarter, down 63-60.
Yet Southern Nash, which largely executed with poise over the final four minutes, got what it needed. Artavius Allen bounced a pass inside to junior Chris Allen, who converted to put the Firebirds up five. Jones quickly converted for Hunt on its end, snatching a rebound and putting it back to make it 65-62 with 32 seconds to go.
Despite not having his best game from the floor, Southern Nash senior Darius Edmundson, observing his 18th birthday, was almost flawless from the foul line in the fourth quarter. On his way to a 17-point, eight-rebound showing, Edmundson was 9 of 10 from the line in the fourth quarter, including four makes in the final 25.4 seconds. His last two free throws with 7.4 seconds to go offset a banked-in 3-pointer from Hunt junior ShaKei Hines just five seconds earlier.
That created the final margin and Hunt, out of timeouts, was mostly powerless to get two more possessions.
Sophomore Chason Royal had the other three 3-pointers for Southern Nash on his way to a 17-point showing.
“Our goal is, if we can get it to the fourth with four minutes left and we’ve got a little bit of a lead, we’re going to try to make you play us man,” Kennedy said. “Spread you out, and then (Artavius Allen) is hard to guard, Chason is hard to guard, Darius is hard to guard. We went to a delay, and then we got a layup one time and Darius got to the line.”
Hunt was without junior Shaquille Wade, who was injured in Tuesday’s win over Rocky Mount.
“I thought they hurt us more offensively than they did defensively,” Taylor said. “(Artavius Allen), those threes that he hit, I don’t know how many he hit, but it was a bunch of them. And I thought that was the big difference in the game.”
So what’s the Firebirds’ secret to getting a regular-season sweep of the Warriors?
“Punch them in the mouth,” Artavius Allen said.