SHALLOTTE — A dismal third quarter for the Knights of West Bladen High spelled doom in the opening round of the Waccamaw Conference Tournament on Tuesday, as West Brunswick High eliminated the Knights with a 54-41 win.
The loss ends West Bladen’s season at 9-15.
“They guarded us hard and we just couldn’t put the ball in the basket,” West Bladen coach Travis Pait said. “We played well defensively, but we need to shoot well to win.”
The Trojans opened the game with a 14-point first quarter and blanketed all of the Knights except Malcolm Vaught, who found the bottom of the net with three three-pointers to account for all of West Bladen’s point in the opening period.
The second quarter was nearly a mirror image of the first, as West Brunswick put 15 points on the board and held the Knights to nine. Vaught canned another three-pointer, joining baskets by Nate Pryor, Devonta Smith and Rahu Purdie to keep West Bladen within 29-18 at intermission.
The third quarter was dominated by defense at both ends of the floor, but it was West Brunswick’s that took center stage.
The Trojans held West Bladen to only a Smith bucket over the 8 minutes, outscoring the Knights by an 8-2 margin to extend the lead to 37-20 going into the final quarter.
The fourth frame was 180 degrees opposite from the third quarter, as both teams erupted at the offensive end. West Bladen doubled its output for the game by dropping in 21 points — led by seven points from Smith, five from Pryor and Vaught’s fifth three-pointer of the game — but the Trojans lit up the scoreboard for 17 points to easily seal the win.
“We battled hard throughout the game and had chances in the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to five or six, but couldn’t hit the shots,” Pait said. “We’re disappointed, sure, but I’m proud of how hard the kids worked. We’ll take three or four weeks off and then get back to it.”
Vaught led West Bladen with 15 points, while Smith added 11 points.
On the season, the Knights lost a total of six games by four points or less, four of those losses coming in conference games. Those six losses were: 79-75 to Fairmont in overtime; 78-75 to eventual conference champion North Brunswick; 62-60 to St. Pauls; 46-44 to East Bladen; 53-51 to Whiteville; and 56-55 to South Columbus.
“Our nine wins could easily have been 15,” Pait said.
But the highlight of the season came during the Christmas break, when West Bladen won the Robeson County Shootout with a 68-55 victory over Class 4-A Lumberton in the championship game behind 16 points each from Vaught and Smith, and 15 points from Pryor.
The Knights also won a close game — 64-62 over West Columbus.
“We still have a lot of work to do before next season,” said Pait, who will lose only one starter to graduation (Devonta Smith). “But we have some talent coming back.”