Ideally, Southern Nash boys’ basketball coach Robbie Kennedy won’t know who his leading scorer will be until the final totals are added up after the game.
It should come as a welcomed surprise, as it did Tuesday in the semifinals of the Nash County Christmas Tournament.
As Kennedy listed players that could lead the Firebirds in scoring after their 79-61 victory against Northern Nash, he eventually came to Deon Lavender’s name.
Lavender led five players in double figures with 15 points, while leading scorer Tahj Deans had 14, and Bryan Vines, who once started in Lavender’s place, scored 14 as well.
“Hopefully when we see our offense look good, we’ll figure it out and get better as the year goes on,” Kennedy said.
Southern Nash (4-7) advanced to the championship game Thursday night, when they will play the winner between Rocky Mount High and Nash Central.
“We try to get everybody going, even the bench,” Vines said. “That’s all we do. ... It motivates the bench to get better.”
The Firebirds took advantage of a suspect Northern Nash defense, which played as poorly as it has all year, coach Rick Ruffin said.
Northern Nash (3-6) has held three teams to fewer than 50 points this season but allowed Southern Nash to score 42 in the first half.
“I don’t think it was as much as what they were doing as it was what we were doing,” Ruffin said. “... Our defensive intensity in the first half was unacceptable.”
In the second half, Southern Nash outscored Northern Nash, 37-36, but every time the Knights pulled close, Southern Nash found another burst.
Early in the third, the Knights pulled within nine, and Southern Nash re-extended the lead to 15.
Back within nine in the fourth, the Knights allowed Southern Nash to go on another quick spurt.
“When your bench can score, that’s a pretty good sign that you have a good team,” said Lavender, who scored eight of his 15 points in the fourth quarter.
Northern Nash was playing without leading scorer D.J. Prunty, who missed the game with concussion-like symptoms.
Prunty is the tallest player on the team, leaving the Knights without one of their rim protectors – something the Firebirds took advantage of with repeated back cuts against man-to-man defense.
“For us to be successful, our defense has to be a whole lot better than it was (Tuesday),” Ruffin said. “I can’t put my finger on it. We’ve been a lot better defensive team most of the season. I don’t know. It was just a lack of focus on defense (Tuesday).”
Northern Nash will play the loser between Nash Central and Rocky Mount.