By Matthew Martin/Sports Correspondent
Throughout the course of a special season, the Westbrook Christian boys basketball team did not have to face a team with consistent size.
A player here or there, perhaps, but not a squad with height as a whole.
On Monday (Feb. 18), the Warriors finally squared off with a big frontline, and it showed throughout the entire stat sheet.
Unfortunately for Westbrook, that stat sheet also showed a 55-41 loss, as the Warriors fell to Class 2A, No. 2 Lanett in the Northeast Regional Tournament semifinals at Pete Mathews Coliseum on the campus of Jacksonville State University.
The Panthers (24-5) featured 6-foot-8 Orendaz Holloway and 6-foot-4 Jamal Spence in the starting lineup, as well as 6-foot-4 Anquaevious Pollard and 6-foot-4 Mandell Ray off the bench.
That size proved to be too much for No. 6 Westbrook (25-5) to overcome.
“Certainly, they (Lanett) are a good team,” Westbrook coach Seth Ford said. “This is the first time we’ve scored under 50 points, all year. We play a pretty fast-paced game, and their defense and their length just gave us a ton of problems.
“I’m certainly proud of our heart [and] proud of our resiliency. We were under-sized and a little bit under-manned, but played and fought as hard as we could.”
The Panthers’ length and size began to show after a close, back-and-forth first half.
In a game as close and tense as was billed in the matchup of top 10 squads, Lanett went into halftime with a 23-20 lead. But the Panthers, who were a free throw from potentially winning the state title last season, started to pull away by way of a poor-shooting third quarter by Westbrook.
The Warriors managed to make just 2-of-7 shots in the period, including just 1-of-6 from beyond the 3-point line. Meanwhile, Lanett converted 7-of-11 field goals, with none of the shots coming from just around the basket.
“The first half, we were settling for 3s, but that was because they were playing a 2-3 zone,” Lanett coach Richard Carter said. “At halftime, I told the kids one of the things you have to do against a zone is penetrate the zone. We were, more or less, standing around on the outside and passing it over the top. They listened well (at halftime) and did what they had to do to get where we are now.”
Where they are now is back in the regional final, where the Panthers took on LaFayette for a chance to return to the Final Four. The outcome of that game was not available by press time.
For the first two quarters, the trip to the regional championship game was in doubt, as Westbrook came out from the opening tip not intimidated by the Panthers’ size.
“It’s nothing we can really prepare for,” Perkins said of Lanett’s size advantage. “We don’t see anything like that around here, throughout a whole lineup. It’s tough.”
The Warriors nailed four treys in the first quarter, three by Perkins and one by Jonathan Ford. Those big shots were not enough for a lead heading into the second quarter, however, as Lanett held a slim 13-12 advantage after the first eight minutes of play.
“I thought we were loose and I thought we came ready to play,” Seth Ford said.
The lead never got larger than five points for Lanett in the second quarter, and Westbrook took a 17-15 lead on a layup by Jerryn Magliore and a free throw from Ford.
But a deep Panthers bench gradually began to take its toll on the Warriors, wearing them down little by little as Lanett eventually built the three-point halftime lead.
“The first half, we did what we kind of wanted to do,” Carter said of his team’s performance. “We wanted to get the ball down the floor, get it out real fast and try to wear them (Westbrook) down as much as we possibly could. We took their legs from them, in the first half, and that’s what we wanted to do.”
Both squads played 11 players, each, in the first half. But while Lanett’s players played anywhere from two minutes to 14 minutes, Westbrook had four, of its 11 players receive just two minutes or less of action.
Carter did have some worries in the first half. Two of his key starters – Holloway and Justice Jackson – each picked up two fouls in the first two quarters. Jackson was called for his third foul with 1:52 left in the third quarter, though the Panthers had built a 35-25 lead by that point.
The deficit got no lower than nine points for Westbrook, at 37-28 on a 3-pointer from Perkins with 1:12 left in the quarter, as Lanett headed into the final frame with a 40-28 advantage.
Westbrook opened the fourth quarter with a quick 5-1 run, when Migliore’s 3-pointer trimmed the deficit to 41-33 with 5:23 remaining in the game.
Moments later, the Warriors had a chance to cut the lead to just six points, but Westbrook missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw opportunity with 4:45 remaining.
Lanett’s Ray Mandell then converted a layup, followed by a Desmond Stevenson steal and another layup by Mandell, which pushed the lead back out to 12 points at 45-33 with 2:56 remaining.
Lanett got a couple of layups down the stretch and converted 8-of-11 free throws to seal the victory.
Holloway led Lanett with 16 points and six rebounds. Jalen Washington scored 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds, while Mandell added 10 points. Jackson chipped in with eight points.
For Westbrook, Edwards and Perkins scored 12 points, each. Edwards also pulled down a game-high nine rebounds, while Ford grabbed seven rebounds and scored five points. Migliore added seven points.
“Westbrook Christian was a really, really good basketball team,” Carter said. “That’s a great testament for Coach Ford and his players. I appreciate they way they play the game.
“I’ve been doing this for 42 years now and I know basketball. They do a great job.”