Eastern Randolph boys find way to outright PAC title

Eastern Randolph’s Davonte Brooks ties the game with a dunk late in the third quarter at Providence Grove. (PJ Ward-Brown/Randolph Record)

Wildcats withstand Providence Grove for rare basketball prize

CLIMAX – Eastern Randolph had to make changes to figure out how to topple Providence Grove in Thursday night’s unexpected down-to-the-end tussle in boys’ basketball.

Just mark it up as another accomplishment for this group of Wildcats.

They’re outright Piedmont Athletic Conference regular-season champions, collecting the school’s first league title of any sort in boys’ basketball in seven years and only second regular-season title in 29 years.

“We wanted to bring something back to Eastern Randolph for basketball and not just football,” senior forward Davonte Brooks said. “Now we can be a basketball and football school, not just football.”

The biggest variation of the past couple of months might come in perception considering Eastern Randolph won just eight games last season.

“It’s hard to change someone’s mindset,” first-year coach Johnny Thomas said.

And it was plenty difficult do dispatch Providence Grove, which turned in perhaps its best performance of the season on Senior Night.

Eastern Randolph clung to a one-point lead in the final minute, making three free throws in the last 12 seconds to secure an 88-84 victory against its neighboring rival.

“We got it done,” reserve Mason Briles said, calling it the wildest environment the Wildcats had competed in all season. “It feels great.”

The Wildcats (22-2, 11-1 PAC) will be the top seed and receive a quarterfinal bye in the league tournament next week before a Wednesday night semifinal at home. Eastern Randolph will be the location of the girls’ and boys’ tournament finals Feb. 17.

Brooks scored 30 points and Connor Carter had all 11 of his points in the second half, beginning with a go-ahead 3-pointer at the buzzer to close the third quarter.

“I didn’t want to lose, period,” Brooks said, “especially to PG. After we felt (how it felt) to lose the first two (defeats), we didn’t want another.”

It appeared the Patriots weren’t interested in coming up short again, either.

“All I asked them to do is fight,” Providence Grove coach Wes Luther said. “We’ve had a disappointing season, but the way we played (this game), I’ll take it.”

Sixth-place Providence Grove (7-17, 3-9), which lost by 33 points in the first meeting with Eastern Randolph, went to halftime with a 38-37 lead courtesy of Jacob Grantham’s difficult 16-foot shot at the buzzer. He kept up a personal scoring spree in the third quarter, when the Patriots went up 50-42.

Connor Carter drains a second-half 3-pointer over Providence Grove’s Joseph Coltrane. (PJ Ward-Brown/Randolph Record)

A Brooks dunk tied it at 60-60 shortly before Carter heated up. He was dialed in from both corners in the fourth quarter, with the Wildcats building an eight-point advantage and later his 3-pointer stretching the edge to 83-78.

Grantham’s two free throws and Zane Cheek’s breakaway layup for Providence Grove – the latter with 51 seconds left – were sandwiched around Brooks’ basket off a rebound before the Wildcats sealed it with free throws.

“It was a great game both ways,” Luther said. “We did hit more shots than we have all year. They kept trying to put us away with big shots. We just wouldn’t go away.”

Eastern Randolph’s Timothy Brower tallied 15 points, Pierce Leonard had 13 points and Nicah Taylor added 11 points.  The contributions didn’t end there.

“You’ve got Jani (Norwood) and Will Stalker and those guys in there getting big rebounds,” Thomas said.

Grantham finished with 17 points, Chase Whitaker had 14 and Sakai McKoy notched 13 points for the Patriots, who were last season’s regular-season PAC champions.

Eastern Randolph finished one game ahead of Southwestern Randolph, which snapped the Wildcats’ 19-game winning streak Jan. 31.

“We know everybody is going to come and everybody is going to fight us the best that they possibly can,” Thomas said. “Coming into halftime, my speech to my kids was, of course, very intense.”

So the Wildcats amped up their pressure defense to extend to full court.

As a result, it was a regular season full of rewards.

By Bob Sutton