Yellow Jackets take round one of county rivalry
Dewaun McEachin's double-double, which was a double-double before halftime, led Lee County (16-3, 6-3) to a 61-48 victory at Southern Lee (12-7, 6-3) in the rivals' first-ever conference meeting in boys basketball Thursday night on Cavalier Court.
McEachin, Lee County's 6-foot-5 senior, totaled 28 points and 15 rebounds, doing most of his work grabbing offensive rebounds, sometimes needing to grab one or two of his own misses before finding the basket.
In front of a near-capacity crowd in Southern Lee's gym, Lee County led most of the way. The Yellow Jackets took the lead for good following a 9-0 run starting the second half, though the lead remained in single digits and the Cavaliers had their chances to get all the way back into the game until under a minute to play.
The Jackets jumped out to a 5-0 lead, though Noah Mellette's three-pointer put the Cavaliers ahead 8-7.
Trevon Watson made a deep three-pointer at the first-quarter horn, followed by Hunter Jackson sinking a trey on the first Jacket possession of the second quarter to take Lee County's lead to 19-12.
For the most part though, a missed shot was a good plan for the Jacket offense because McEachin went and got plenty of them. He had 14 points and 10 rebounds in the first half.
Lee County led 27-20 before the Cavaliers seized the momentum to finish the half. A three-pointer by Charles Wicker and a hoop inside by Kevin McLeod sparked the run, then Mellette, not nearly at McEachin's 6-foot-5, found room in the paint for a rebound and stickback off a missed Cavalier free throw, then another board and basket from a Cavalier fast break. Mellette's two baskets made it 29-29 at halftime.
The break came at the right time for the Jackets. Jerry Pullum and McEachin combined for three rebounds, turning them into five points, on Lee County's first three possessions of the third period.
McEachin scored with a short jump hook, then Jackson hit a leaning jumper in the lane for a 38-29 Jacket lead.
Mellette and McLeod scored all 10 Cavalier points in the third quarter and Southern Lee had worked the margin down to 43-39 going to the fourth.
Both sides missed shots to either stretch the lead or turn the game around. Lee County kept dominating the boards but didn't convert some of the short stickbacks. Southern Lee got lay-up chances against the Jacket pressing, but missed chances to cut the Yellow Jacket lead under four points.
Jackson's three-point play on a fast break gave the Jackets a 48-39 lead with 7:18 remaining.
Southern Lee got as close as five points before the Jacket defense got two stops at a key time. During a hustling Cavalier possession, including two Cavalier rebounds, Mellette drove to the hoop and was whistle for charging. Following an empty Jacket trip to the line, the Jackets forced another Southern Lee turnover and Jackson made 1 of 2 free throws, for a 56-48 Jacket lead, with 0:54 left.
After a Cavalier miss, then a fight for the loose ball and the Jackets coming away with it, an intentional foul allowed Jackson to make two free throws and the Jackets to run a little more time off.
Jackson finished with 18 points and eight rebounds. Watson had seven points, five assists and five steals.
For the Cavs, Mellette and McLeod scored 16 points each with McLeod getting five boards. Wicker had nine points. Justin McKinnon added five points and seven rebounds.
Lee County had a 23-12 turnover advantage with an 11-2 margin in the second half.
The Yellow Jackets will host the Cavaliers in the regular-season finale for both on Feb. 13. Key Cape Fear Valley games are to play between now and then, including on Friday night: Lee County hosts Terry Sanford (17-2, 8-0) at 7:30 p.m. and Southern Lee goes to Westover (14-6, 7-2) for a 7:30 tip.