Overcoming a sluggish start, especially at the line, the Berkeley Stags caught fire in the second half and won the game going away at the line, downing Marlboro County 46-41 in the opening round of the Class AAA playoffs.
The Stags took the lead in a seesaw battle midway through the third quarter on a Peyton Thompson steal and a free throw, 36-35, and again on a Thompson steal with just over four minutes to play that sent Berkeley to the line to ice the win.
“We missed our foul shots early, but we made them when it counted,” said Stags coach Joe Wallace. “We played with defensive intensity and made the big plays when we had to. We showed a lot of energy tonight, especially Peyton Thompson with the two big steals and lay-ins.”
The Stags improved to 19-5 on the season and advance to the second round to take on Wilson on Friday.
The Stags found themselves down 13-2 before they found any part of the basket but iron and quickly pulled to within six by the end of the first quarter, down 18-12 after eight minutes, and 24-21 at the half behind Alex Taylor’s nine first-half points.
“Alex got his touches in the first half and hit his shots,” Wallace said. “He brought us close.”
In the second half, the defense took over, keeping the game close until the Stags took the lead for the first time at the 5:28 mark on Demery Ford’s steal and lay-in.
The Bulldogs knotted the score 29-29 going into the game’s final eight minutes, and held a three-point lead, 35-32, before Berkeley converted an old-fashioned 3-point play on a Thompson steal and free throw. After trading free throws, Berkeley tied the score 36-36 with 2:16 left in the game.
Keyshawn Matthews converted 7-of-8 free throws in the game’s final two minutes to seal the win. Matthews finished with a game-high 13 points.
“We showed our poise,” he said. “The seniors, myself, Alex, Malik and Peyton exhibited leadership tonight in keeping the game close as we battled back from a very slow start, and sparked the defense down the stretch.”
Taylor matched Matthews with 13 points, nine coming in the first half, and Thompson had five points, all big buckets in the fourth quarter.
Mason Edwards added six points to help pace the Berkeley offense.
“This was a good team win,” Wallace said. “We came out and we took care of business in our house. Now we have to win one on the road.”