Hilltoppers bow to Shelby in semis
R-S Central came into Shelby Wednesday night with hopes of pulling off an incredible upset of the top-seeded Shelby Golden Lions in the semifinals of the SMAC tournament. Unfortunately, Shelby took care of the Hilltoppers for the third time this season with a 88-56 win.
“[Shelby] is one of the best teams around,” Central head coach Greg Wright said after the game. “We didn’t shoot the ball well and against a team with such a size advantage we need to be able to hit shots.”
Shelby jumped out to a 12-4 lead halfway through the fourth quarter but a Jay Blanton 3 and a Jordan Hamilton layup cut the lead to three in just under a minute.
From there the Hilltoppers played tough and trailed 19-15 after the first quarter.
Rashaun Whitesides put the Hilltoppers within two at 23-21 with 5:45 left in the half but the Golden lions finished the half on a 17-8 run to head into the locker room with a 40-29 lead at the half.
“In the first two games, Gabe DeVoe really handled us and dictated the game,” Wright said. “In the first half we wanted to take the ball out of his hands with a box-and-one defense and it worked. The problem is that we couldn’t cover the middle of the floor and they annihilated us on offensive rebounds.”
Out of the break Shelby took control of the game with their athleticism.
Despite a highlight defensive possession by Jaylen Hollis who swatted back-to-back attempts by Shelby big man Spencer Clark under the basket, Shelby extended their lead to 57-39 as the third quarter came to a close.
The fourth quarter is where the Golden Lions broke Central’s spirit.
DeVoe capped a 7-0 Shelby run to start the fourth with a double-clutch slam with 7:08 left to play forcing the Hilltoppers in a timeout trailing 64-39.
“Their athleticism and ability to block shots really disrupted what we wanted to do,” Wright said. “
Then Dante Falls slammed on home in transition to put Shelby out front 69-41 before the reserves took the floor and finished out the 88-56 win for the Golden Lions.
“That really took the air out of our kids,” Wright said. “You could just see the kids deflate on the floor.”
Whitesides led the Hilltopper with 16 points, seven rebounds and five assists while Blanton contributed 12 points in the losing effort.
Central awaits their first-round opponent in the state playoffs while Shelby matches up with East Rutherford Friday night for the SMAC championship. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Shelby High.
“We’re going to regroup and work on some things offensively,” Wright said about looking forward to the state playoffs. “This game is over and next week we’ll face good competition but I don’t know if we’ll face someone like Shelby for a long time.”