St. Pauls, a team that stumbled to 20 losses last season, is one win away from equaling its previous total after Monday's 67-38 dismantling of Purnell Swett. Just four games into head coach Travis Lemanski's third season, the Bulldogs seem to have finally mastered his uptempo mentality with a guard-heavy lineup and defensive sets similar to a blueprint set by the Golden Tornadoes.
"We're starting to finally execute some things," Lemanski said. "We've been helter-skelter the past couple seasons and I never could get them to run the fast break, secondary break or any kind of offensive sets. The basketball knowledge and savvy is finally starting to trickle down to the players."
St. Pauls (3-1) turned up its intensity on defense in the second quarter and never looked back after outscoring the Rams 17-6 during the frame. The Bulldogs held Swett to its lowest point total since the Rams managed just 30 against Scotland in Jan. 2011, a span of 36 games.
St. Pauls senior Deion Gilchrist, a preseason all-county guard, capped an 8-0 run that ended the first half with an off-balance layup in the lane to push the Bulldogs ahead by 14. Gilchrist has found his shooting touch over the last three games since a 1-for-9 effort in a season-opening win over West Bladen on Nov. 27.
He poured in a team-high 17 points in Monday's win and kept Swett at bay with six assists in the backcourt. Guarding Swett's top player James Chavis most of the contest, Gilchrist limited the Rams' jump-shooting specialist to a six-point outing.
"We try to tell Deion that making the right pass or defending in a key spot is just as pretty as him making a shot," Lemanski said. "He really turned into a complete player over the summer after all he did was score last year."
In addition to Gilchrist's ability to create off the dribble, Malik Livingston continued his role as the Bulldogs' second option with 16 points. Livingston has scored in double figures in every game this season and is one of the team's best free-throw shooters.
Livingston is one of many quick, interchangeable guards Lemanksi has at his disposal after having just one or two scoring options in 2010 and 2011. South Robeson transfer Jesse Burden provides another athletic body in the frontcourt.
"I only kept 11 guys (on varsity) which is the smallest number since I've been here," Lemanski said. "But it seems like the team chemistry is the best I've ever had with the nine-man rotation. Malik is one of our leaders and we're counting on him for sure."
For the Rams, it looks as if this season could be a rebuilding one if players don't begin to gel on offense. The departure of Juwan Jones left Swett without a true point guard and leader on the floor and it's shown early.
Against the Bulldogs, Swett (1-4) never got on track offensively matched up with a faster lineup and was doubled up by points in transition. Swett's third consecutive loss was much like the previous two — not a strong enough presence at the defensive end.
Forward Mitchell Hill scored all of the Rams' first-quarter points and managed an 18-point, 11-rebound performance but it wasn't enough. Coach Jeremy Sampson's squad will try and regroup Wednesday at home against Pine Forest. The Rams lost a previous game against the Trojans by 20 this season.
St. Pauls goes for its fourth win Wednesday at Lumberton.
Glover, Hunt lead Lady Bulldogs
St. Pauls' girls basketball team even its record to 2-2 this season with Monday's 47-30 win over Purnell Swett, dominating the second half with an attention to defense.
The Lady Bulldogs forced more than 20 turnovers after intermission and broke open a tight contest with an 18-point final frame. Tia Glover scored 12 points while Sabeth Hunt pitched in 11, both providing an inside-outside game for St. Pauls. With the loss, Swett dropped to 1-4 in Danyel Locklear's third season.
The Lady Rams (1-4) have sorely missed the scoring output of Kayla Lewis and Laura Bird and are searching for chemistry with three first-year starters.
BOYS: St. Pauls 67, Swett 38
Purnell Swett 10 6 15 7 -- 38; St. Pauls 13 17 24 13 -- 67
Swett — Mitchell Hill 18, Chavis 6, Gillespie 5, McManus 2, Williamson 2, Maynor 2, Scott 2, Bullard 1; St. Pauls — Deion Gilchrist 17, Malik Livingston 16, Jaquell Johnson 10, Burden 6, Morgan 6, Crawford 4, Banner 4, Canady 2, Bain 2; 3-Point Goals — STP: Gilchrist; Records — Purnell Swett 1-4, St. Pauls 3-1.
GIRLS: St. Pauls 47, Swett 30
Purnell Swett 8 7 8 7 -- 30; St. Pauls 10 7 12 18 -- 47
Swett — Colleen Chavis 14, Scott 6, Hunt 4, Lowery 3, Locklear 2, Bird 1; St. Pauls — Tia Glover 12, Sabeth Hunt 11, Roberson 8, K. Locklear 8, D. Locklear 6, Lesane 2; 3-Point Goals — Roberson 2; Records — Purnell Swett 1-4, St. Pauls 2-2.