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STANHOPE — Dwight Taylor didn’t have to go far in order to find the right buttons to push for his Hunt High varsity boys basketball team on Friday night at Southern Nash.
Taylor’s return to the Warriors bench from retirement last season yielded a return to a winning record for Hunt, but the Firebirds were the obstacle that couldn’t be overcome. Southern Nash defeated Hunt in all three meetings, including the end of the Warriors’ season in the second round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A playoffs.
The Firebirds were nothing close to that threat in the first 2019-20 meeting between the teams.
Hunt darted out to a quick 7-0 lead and controlled the tempo throughout, remaining undefeated in Big East play with a workmanlike 64-54 victory — its eighth straight win following a 2-5 start.
The Warriors improved to 10-5 and remained the only conference team without a loss at 3-0. Southern Nash, which sent its starters to the bench for a healthy portion of the second half, fell to 4-7 and remained winless through three Big East contests.
“Our coach told us that in the locker room before the game started,” Hunt senior Shakei Hines said of the Firebirds’ dominance from a season ago.
Four Hunt players finished in double figures, led by sophomore TyChaun Clay’s 14 points. Junior Blaize Keen had 12 and Hines added 11. Sophomore Davon Jones wheeled inside for 10 points as Hunt defeated the Southern Nash 3-2 zone with a trio of 3-pointers in the first quarter. Clay had two of those as the Warriors, quick and stout defensively, claimed a 21-13 lead after one quarter.
“We looked good,” Taylor said. “We shared the ball real well. I think the guys passed the ball and played unselfish ball. We just hit the open man and did what we needed to do. We played good, stout defense for the first half. The second half, I wasn’t really pleased with, but it gave us some cushion and we just rolled the game out.”
Hunt went on a 10-0 run to open the second quarter, getting to the foul line and picking up offense from Keen off the bench. However, the Firebirds, down 18, closed the half on an 9-1 spurt, getting back-to-back 3-pointers from senior A.J. Jones to help slice the Warriors’ lead to 32-22 at halftime.
Yet that was as close as the hosts would get. Hunt opened the second half on a 9-2 run, fueled by Hines and Jones. Hines connected on a pair of 3-pointers in the third quarter, the later stretching Hunt’s lead to a commanding 44-28 margin.
“Our big problem now is we’re not playing real hard,” Southern Nash head coach Robbie Kennedy said. “That’s why a lot of our starters sat most of the second half. We’ve got to play better. We’ve got to play better defensively; we’ve got to play better offensively. We can’t turn the ball over. I thought we competed well the last quarter and a half. Our guys just have to learn that we’ve got to start playing better the whole ballgame. We’re not shooting the ball real well and we’re not real active on defense. It seems like every time we play somebody, they make a lot of shots.”
Hunt’s biggest lead was 17 in the third quarter and held at 64-48 before Southern Nash junior Darin Bailey hit back-to-back cosmetic treys to complete the scoring. Bailey led all scorers with 19 points.
Hunt visits Franklinton on Tuesday night before concluding the first half of conference play at home against archrival Fike next Friday.
“It was another conference game,” Taylor said. “So we had to play. We played fairly good defense, and there are some things we need to improve on. But we’ll go back and work on those things.”
Clay 14, Wade, Keen 12, Taylor 4, Hines 11, Carmon 1, Hammonds 2, Horne 4, Jones 10, Barron, Joyner 6.
SouthERN NASH (54)
Rambert, Allen 2, Williams 1, Jones 6, Bailey 19, Parker 2, Tabron 11, Royal 5, Armstrong 3, Vick 5, Edmundson.
Score by quarters:
Hunt 21 11 20 12 — 64
Southern Nash 13 9 14 18 — 54