The textbook give-and-go late in the fourth quarter not only sealed St. Pauls’ 56-48 home win over West Bladen, it flashed an element that was barely seen by the Bulldogs all last season — chemistry.
Led by Livingston’s game-high 19 points, including a 13-point outburst in the fourth quarter, third-year coach Travis Lemanksi saw plenty of chemistry from his Bulldogs in Tuesday’s season-opener.
In fact, perhaps more than he did during last season’s dismal 4-20 campaign.
“We’re starting to execute more this year,” Lemanski said. “It’s my third year and the guys are finally buying into that we can’t go out there and freelance. It’s taking us a long time to get to the point where they can make an extra pass for an easier bucket instead of trying to force things.
“I think our chemistry is probably the best its been since I’ve been here.”
Banner and Livingston were at the forefront of righting the ship Tuesday, combining for 35 points, including the Bulldogs’ final four points.
“When I gave him the ball,” Livingston said, referring to the aforementioned give-and-go, “and I called ‘cut-cut’ and he passed it to me and I got the and-one it felt real good. It’s based off team chemistry. We’ve been working on that in practice all the time.”
In the first half, Banner was the one on the receiving end, scoring 11 of his 16 points, as he went to work in the paint with swooping drives to the hoop and elbow jumpers. Banner’s pull-up jumper at 3:12 in the second quarter gave St. Pauls its largest first-half lead at 21-10. Anchored by its outside touch, however, West Bladen finished the frame on a 7-3 run to make for a 24-17 count at halftime.
The Knights continued to showcase a steady stroke in the third quarter — they hit nine 3-pointers to St. Pauls’ one — led by streaky shooter Malcolm Vaught who had a team-high 15 points with three 3s. His layup in the final ticks of the third evened the count at 34-34 heading into the final quarter.
“It’s early in the season so we’re switching defenses a lot, from zone back to man,” Lemanski said. “We did a good job in the first half, making those transitions smooth and not missing a beat. In the second half — in the third quarter — we made some bad transitions and left some guys open and to their credit they knocked down some good shots.”
In the fourth, however, it was Livingston’s turn. After the Knights took their first lead of the game at 36-34 less than a minute in, the junior slasher scored six of St. Pauls’ ensuing 12 points. Following Livingston’s own 4-o run, Banner dropped in a layup and Deion Gilchrist buried a deep two to account for eight unanswered St. Pauls points and a 44-36 lead with 4:47 left.
West Bladen couldn’t get it closer than six the rest of the way. Gilchrist, St. Pauls’ all-county senior guard, struggled to a mere four points on the night, hitting just one field goal and a pair of free throws.
“If we can still win and Deion play like that, he’s a lot better than that, and we can still pull it out, that’s a good way to look at it,” Lemanski said. “I thought Malik kind of came alive and carried us a little bit.”
Livingston, who appeared effortless in finding the cup during his 13-point fourth quarter, was ready and willing to provide the lift.
“They just kept feeding me the ball, I had the hot hand. Coach stresses that a lot, if you have the hot hand you get the ball,” Livingston said. “Me and Deion are captains from last year, and (coach) wanted us to step up and be leaders on the team and that’s what I tried to do.”
Lady Bulldogs fall short
West Bladen’s Haley Cox hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 26 seconds left, lifting the Lady Knights to a 44-41 win over St. Pauls in season-opening action Tuesday.
Cox’s 3 — her only bucket of the night — was followed up by a swipe-and-score by Taylor Stephens with 10 seconds left to give the Knights a 42-39 cushion. The two teams traded free throws in the waning seconds to round out the final tally. St. Pauls, which trailed 16-10 in the first half, lit the scoreboard for 22 points in the third to carry a 32-28 lead into the fourth.
The Lady Bulldogs, however, couldn’t keep in front. Alexis Roberson and Tia Glover led St. Pauls with 11 and 10 points, respectively. Courntey Thompson had a team-high 12 points for West Bladen.
BOYS: St. Pauls 56, West Bladen 48
STP 12 12 10 22 — 56; WB 8 9 17 14 — 48
St. Pauls — Dustin Canady 5, Jesse Burden 2, Malik Livingston 19, DJ Inman 5, Jaquell Johnson 6, Kane Banner 16, Deion Gilchrist 4, Deonta Bain 2; West Bladen — Devon Smith 10, Raha Pardie 6, Edward Owens 2, Nate Pryor 6, Stefan McDonald 3, Malcolm Vaught 15, Blake Donnelly 3, Lucas McNeil 3; 3-Point Goals — STP: Canady. WB: Smith, Pardie 2, Pryor, Vaught 3, Donnelly, McNeil; Records — St. Pauls 1-0. West Bladen 0-1.
GIRLS: West Bladen 44, St. Pauls 41
St. Pauls — Alexis Roberson 11, Jada Mitchell 5, Tia Glover 10, Tamara Glover 2, Sabeth Hunt 6, Kristen Locklear 3, Jardin Lesane 4; West Bladen — Danielle Dove 4, Taylor Stepehens 7, Abbey Walters 6, Autumn Bobby 2, Haley Cox 3, Kaitlyn Sykes 5, Lexie Storms 2, Courtney Thompson 12; Records — West Bladen 1-0. St. Pauls 0-1.