LAURINBURG — A two-week hiatus nearly derailed the No. 2 Fighting Scots on Thursday against No. 6 Jack Britt. The Fighting Scots narrowly topped the Buccaneers 45-29 in their lowest scoring game of the season.
The Scots turned the ball over five times in the first quarter on errant passes. A basket by senior Niem Ratliffe and a three-pointer by fellow senior Justin McRae gave the Scots a 7-4 lead at the end of the first eight minutes.
The less than stellar performance by the Scots caused head coach Matt Justin to slightly lose his cool, saying his team’s play was “ridiculous and lazy.”
The Fighting Scots rebounded in the second quartet to outscore the Bucs 18-9 to take a 25-13 lead into the break. McRae paced the Scots in the first half with 10 points followed by Ratliffe, Garrett McRae and Isaiah Bostick all scored three points.
After halftime, the two teams found themselves locked in a defensive battle as they combined to score just 13 points. The Scots outscored the Bucs 8-5 with a basket from Ratliffe and a three-point trip to the free-throw line. The Scots other basket of the quarter came from fellow senior Brenton Thomas to give his team a 33-18 lead heading into the final quarter.
Scoring picked up — but only slightly — as the two teams tried to shake off the rust.
The Scots kept a comfortable double-digit lead throughout the entire fourth quarter as the Scots cruised to a 45-29 victory. It’s the Scots sixth straight Sandhills Athletic Conference victory of the season, as they cling to second place at 6-1 behind undefeated Hoke County at 8-0.
The Scots have a two-game lead on Pinecrest, who sits in third place at 5-2. Seventy-First is in fourth place at 4-4 while the SAC-8s four other teams have losing records. Lumberton and Purnell Swett are in a tie for fifth place at 2-5, one game ahead of Jack Britt at 2-6. Richmond is in last place at 1-7.
The Scots will likely be the No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the conference championship tournament this season — depending on how they perform against Hoke and Pinecrest this week and next.
If the Scots are able to make it to the conference championship according to NCHSAA rules the conference runner-ups receive No. 2 seeds, which are then adjusted according to their MaxPreps ranking to determine 4A playoff seeding.
Unless the wheels completely fall of the Scots they will advance to the 4A playoffs this season, a benchmark head coach Matt Justin has been trying to achieve the past two seasons.
According to Monday’s projections by MaxPreps, the Scots will likely earn the No. 16 see in the 4A West and host No. 17 Hough. The winner of that game will play No. 1 Independence. The SAC-8s other projected playoff contenders are Pinecrest with the No. 9 seed in the West while Hoke County is tabbed as the No. 5 seed in the 4A East and Seventy-First as the No. 16 seed in the East.
The website does ask people to take note that until the final week of the season these are just predictions and projections — Cinderella stories happen all the time in basketball.
The Scots traveled to Hoke on Friday and have a make-up game on Saturday, Jan. 27 at 5 p.m. with the Pirates.
Amber Hatten-Staley can be reached at 910-506-3170 or firstname.lastname@example.org.