LAURINBURG — Last year was a season of near misses for the Fighting Scots.
Of their 23 games last season, 14 were determined by 10 points or less. Broken down even further, 10 of the Fighting Scots games were determined by five points or less — six of those 10 were losses.
“We couldn’t get over the hump,,” said third-year head coach Matt Justin. “We won right around the same number of games, 11 or 12 both years I’ve been here. A lot of our losses were really close, we had 10 losses of six points or less along with a couple of overtime losses. It’s something we’ve tried to stress at the start of the year how close we were last year we just need to be able to close games better and try to be more consistent.”
The Fighting Scots finished the 2016 season, 11-14 overall and 3-7 in the Southeastern Conference. The Scots earned the No. 4 seed in the conference tournament but lost in the first round to Lumberton, 75-74. For the second consecutive year the Fighting Scots missed out on the NCHSAA 4A playoffs — a fact, Justin is using to motivate his team.
Four seniors will anchor the Fighting Scots while a mix of youth with four sophomores and a freshman. Two-time all-conference senior Niem Ratliffe and honorable mention all-conference senior Justin McRae will lead the offensive attack for the Scots along with sophomore Garrett McRae. Seniors Quinton Covington and Janoah McRae will help solidify the defense. Junior Isaiah Bostick will be a lightening rod, according to Justin. The Scots roster is rounded out by two other sophomores CJ Settles and Adonis Jackson.
“We have a good mix of youth and experience,” said Justin. “We have two three-year starters coming back and four seniors, will be six once football ends with the addition of Trey Dixon and Brenton Thomas. We have two sophomores moved up from JV and Garrett (McRae) who played varsity last season. Isaiah Bostick I think will be a difference maker. We wanted him to play varsity last season, but we also wanted him to comfortable in the system. He will be an exciting player for us this year.”
The Fighting Scots will be strong on the offensive side of the ball, with nine players who Justin thinks can rebound and push the ball up the floor. Ratliffe and J. McRae help the Scots with having strong guard play. An area Justin said his team has worked on over the summer is their defense and rebounding.
“If we’re able to improve defensively and rebound better I think that will translate into more wins this year — conference and non-conference,” he said. “It’s a different feeling this year, there are kids that have experience and this is their second or third year in the program and they feel comfortable and I think it will show.”
The addition of Jack Britt and Seventy-First to the conference will increase the level of competition, according to Justin something he welcomes and hopes his team will take in stride. The Fighting Scots played Jack Britt twice last season, losing to the Buccaneers in Laurinburg but downing Jack Britt in Hope Mills.
The Fighting Scots open SAC-8 play on Dec. 5 against Jack Britt and Justin wants his team to set the tone early and show the other teams in the SAC-8 they plan to be a contender for the inaugural SAC-8 title.
“Last year we were top three in the conference them went up and down,” Justin said. “We need to try and correct with our practice habits, be more consistent so that translates into the game. Jack Britt was young last year and are really well coached. Seventy-First is always good in basketball. I’m looking forward to it, it’s going to be a tougher conference but it’s better for our league more competition.”
The Fighting Scots will travel to Clinton High School on Saturday for a three-game scrimmage and Justin plans to use that to get his team’s first-game jitters out of the way.
“I’m approaching it almost as a practice, we’ll go down and play three different teams for a short period of time,” he said. “It will be a chance to go against other competition which I think they are itching to do at this point.”
The 2017 Fighting Scots basketball team officially opens its season on Tuesday, Nov. 14 with a home non-conference game against Gray’s Creek at 7:30 p.m.
Amber Hatten can be reached at 910-506-3170.