Yellow Jackets win Christmas tourney title
Dewaun McEachin got 24 points, 10 rebounds, an MVP plaque and his right eye will likely be sore for a few days as he led Lee County (12-1) to a 70-61 win over Cary (7-4) for the Yellow Jacket Holiday Basketball Classic championship Monday night.
With 6:30 remaining in the game, and with a tight game after Lee County trailed by eight at halftime and by double digits for part of the first half, McEachin was fouled trying to catch a pass near the Imp goal. As he fell he took a knee to his face, causing a big cut above his eye and plenty of swelling around the eye.
With their top scorer and rebounder out, the Yellow Jackets took the lead for good.
Hunter Jackson's three-pointer, coming seconds after he could've been whistled for his fifth foul fighting for a rebound, cut Cary's lead to 57-56. Keaun Toler, the Jackets' next option in the paint besides McEachin, hit a turnaround shot in the low post to tie the game.
With 4:11 to play, Tre'von Watson made 2 of 3 free throws putting Lee County ahead 60-58.
With the Imps and Jackets, former Tri-Nine Conference rivals as the Imps, still 4A, are now in the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference and Lee County is in the 3A Cape Fear Valley, playing a fast, physical game throughout, the sides traded empty possessions.
With a bandage wrapping his head, McEachin reentered the game to a big ovation with 2:36 to play. On the following Imp possession, McEachin's steal started a Jacket fast break. Toler was fouled and split free throws for a 61-58 Jacket lead.
The Yellow Jackets struggled at the free throw line most of the night, but made them in the last two minutes to put the victory away. Jackson and McEachin both had 2-for-2 trips, putting the Jackets ahead 65-59 as the clock went under a minute.
Lee County was 19 for 37 (51.3 percent) up until the last 1:14 and 9 for 12 (75 percent) in the last 1:14; from Jackson's two free throws on.
"We showed a lot of character in the second half," said Lee County head coach Reggie Peace.
After beginning the game "flat" the second half was different, Peace said, even aside from the emotional spark McEachin gave his team.
"We finally played with energy in the second half," Peace said.
"When this team plays together on both ends of the court, we're pretty good," he said. "We did that when we had to in the second half. The guys made some tough shots and made timely free throws."
The Imps controlled the opening half, jumping out to an 8-2 lead with Donte Tatum scoring the first three Imp buckets of the game around the hoop, even while, at 6-foot tall, Tatum and Cary as a whole, were the smaller squad inside.
Cary cared for the ball, and attacked successfully, versus Lee County's trapping defense, which has usually served the Jackets very well through their good start to the season.
Cary led 24-15 after a quarter and by as much as 13 in the second quarter. C.J. Lyon led the Imps with 10 points in the half as they led 38-30 at the break.
With Cary leading by six early in the third period, the Jackets surged in front with a 7-0 run. Jackson drained a three-pointer, then the Jacket pressing paid as Jackson tipped a pass in the backcourt and went in for a lay-up. Following a miss at the line, the Jackets forced a 10-second violation and McEachin got a bucket in the lane for a 41-40 Lee County lead.
The Imps regained the lead before two McEachin hoops, a putback from his own miss at the line, then a short miss by Jerry Pullum, then McEachin's soaring jam finishing a steal and outlet pass by Toler, put the Jackets ahead 48-45. Cary answered with an 8-2 run in the last 2:30 of the third period.
Even with missing about four minutes getting bandaged up, McEachin scored 14 of his 24 points in the second half. Jackson scored 13 of his 15 points in the second half.
McEachin gave the Jackets what proved to be the sealing play without scoring. With a 66-61 lead and 0:35 left, McEachin drew a charge as Cary's Cory Gensler drove to the basket. The charging call drew a technical foul on head coach Allan Gustafson. Jackson made 3 of 4 free throws.
Pullum scored 14 points and had five rebounds. Watson had eight points and five assists. Toler added six points and eight rebounds off the bench.
For the Imps, Lyon scored 15 points and had four assists. Gensler had 12 points. Tatum and Isaiah Gibbons had nine points each.
Gensler, Lyon and Watson made the All-Tournament Team, along with Dexter McCrae of Overhills and Ti Pinnix of Northwood and McEachin as the MVP. McEachin averaged 23.3 points and 8.7 rebounds a game for the three games.
Lee County will host Pinecrest, with the scheduled date moved up a day to Monday, Jan. 6, and varsity games set for 6 and 7:30 p.m.