RED SPRINGS — Dustin Canady, newly plugged into the St. Pauls boys basketball team’s starting lineup, was given the green light from coach Travis Lemanksi prior to the Bulldogs’ Three Rivers Conference opener at Red Springs.
“Coach just said, ‘Let it ride and have confidence,’” Canady said.
The senior shooting guard obliged.
Canady hit two 3-pointers in the game’s opening minutes and cashed in two more threes in the second half, finishing with a career-high 13 points to help lead St. Pauls to a 50-44 Three Rivers win over Red Springs on Friday night. St. Pauls won the teams’ first meeting, 44-43, during the first round of the Robeson County Shootout on Dec. 12.
Aiding Canady’s hot-shooting night was the space-creating ball handling of teammates Malik Livingston and Deion Gilchrist, who finished with 14 and 10 points, respectively. The Bulldog backcourt consistently snaked into the lane, drew double-teams and kicked out to shooters, namely Canady.
“Really, it’s not me, it’s my teammates,” Canady said. “Deion and Malik, they play tremendous ball. Teams start to focus on them and double and triple team them and they just have faith in me to kick it out.”
Canady’s back-to-back threes in the first quarter helped St. Pauls (8-5, 1-0) set the tone for a 15-5 lead after one. It was just the kind of confident shooting Lemanski had been hoping to see from his sub-turned-starter.
“He’s a great practice player and I think he’s finally starting to get the confidence where he can do it when it really counts during the game,” Lemanski said. “It’s nice to see him grow and develop. It was his best game of the season.”
Red Springs (2-9, 0-1), however, had a lights out senior shooter of its in Corey Okonkwo who poured in a game-high 19 points, including three 3-pointers.
He was on the finishing end of a perfectly run pick-and-roll with Quinn Lowery to open the second quarter, where the Red Devils doubled up the Bulldogs, 12-6, to trim St. Pauls’ lead to 21-17 at halftime.
“I thought we had a great first quarter, but the second quarter we couldn’t set up any pressure,” Lemanski said. “We got to get to the point when we’re up 10 to try to take it to 20 and not let the team climb back in.”
Deion Gilchrist helped St. Pauls widen the gap in the third to 37-28. He opened the frame with a no-look feed in the paint to Jaquell Johnson for a layup and closed it by leaving his defender’s legs tangled with a juking crossover and jumper at the buzzer.
The two teams traded jabs in the fourth, until the Red Devils’ Okonkwo ripped consecutive triples at the top of the key to cut the gap to a two possession game, 43-37, with 2:14 to go.
But the count never got closer. Despite shooting a porous 37 percent from the free-throw line (12 of 32), the Bulldogs managed to hit just enough at the stripe to salvage the win.
“It was one of those ugly games, but we’ll take the win,” Lemanski said. “We’re 1-0 in the conference and that’s all that matters.”
Lady Bulldogs top Red Devils
Alexis Roberson and Tamara Glover scored 12 and 11 points, respectively, to steer the St. Pauls girls basketall team to a 40-34 Three Rivers Conference win over Red Springs.
Jasmine Murchison netted a game-high 14 points for Red Springs. Robyn McPhaul chipped in 12.
St. Pauls improves to 6-7 and 1-0 in the conference while Red Springs drops to 5-6 and 0-1.
Reach Sports Editor Kaleb Roedel at 910-272-6111 or email@example.com.