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KENLY — North Johnston senior guard Justin Vann came up big late in the fourth quarter to help the Panthers pull out a 57-53 victory over 2-A Eastern Plains Conference foe Beddingfield on Wednesday night.
“I feel like I played good tonight,” Vann said after a 22-point performance where most of his points came in the second half. “We were being more patient instead of coming down and trying to run real fast with them. We came down real patient with the ball and that got me some open looks.”
In recent games, North Johnston head coach Chris Batten lamented that his team (4-10, 1-1 EPC) has struggled to close out games in the fourth quarter. But he was encouraged by what he saw out of his team after two opportunities in recent games when the Panthers did not do so.
“We practice late game probably as much as possible and trying to simulate it,” Batten said. “We talked about getting over the hump and finishing a game, so it’s nice to be able to do that.”
On the other hand, after closing out a victory over Smithfield-Selma in the waning minutes on Monday, Beddingfield head coach Jeremy Howard watched his team (6-7, 1-1) fail to take over in the final moments and get handed its first conference loss.
“I told the guys in the locker room, first of all we’ve got to start holding everybody on this team accountable,” Howard said. “We persevered and came through on Monday night, we came within an eyelash of doing it tonight, but I thought the guys that were here played hard. It was a team effort, we were just a couple possessions short.”
Though eventually finishing on top, the win for North Johnston, by no means, came easy.
The two teams traded leads throughout the first half until ultimately tying at 23-all headed into halftime. Rakuan Rodrigues buoyed the home team with 10 first-half points, while Beddingfield’s Raekwon Batts led the Bruins with nine.
After the half, Beddingfield started to play like the better team.
By the end of the third quarter, the Bruins had begun to build a case that they were ready to take control. The team built a five-point lead by the start of fourth quarter after a 10-0 run, but instead of increasing its advantage, North Johnston climbed back into the game.
It was at that point when Vann was ready to leave his mark.
Vann, who scored just four points in the first half, scored 13 points in the closing minutes of the game, which helped the Panthers rally back, take the lead and later hold on for good.
“This was a real close game for us to be in a situation like this,” Vann said. “It was a first for us, so we had to be serious and keep that mindset.”
With under a minute remaining, and down 49-48, Vann pulled up from 3-point land and knocked down a big shot to take a 53-51 lead, North Johnston’s first since the third quarter. With the crowd erupting behind him, Vann took off down the court and shortly after, Beddingfield turned the ball over.
After being fouled, Vann knocked down a pair of free throws to push the lead out to two possessions and that was it. Vann said his team can gain confidence from the victory after a slow start to the season.
“It can help us build our confidence,” Vann said. “We haven’t really won a lot, so now that we’ve won our first conference game, I feel like it will really help our confidence.”
After the loss, Beddingfield junior forward Kaleb Harris said his team was a couple plays away from being the one to snatch the victory away instead.
“We could have hustled a little harder, played defense a little harder,” Harris said. “It was just basic basketball things we didn’t do. At the end we kind of just fell off.”
Three Beddingfield players finished in double digits — Harris and Batts with 11 each and Nathan Coley with 15 — compared to just two for North Johnston, but it wasn’t enough.
Highsmith 5, Hutcherson 4, Harris 11, Davis 2, Dove 3, Batts 11, Coley 15, Edwards 2.
NORTH JOHNSTON (57)
Pitts 2, Vann 22, Lucas 4, Rodrigues 18, Parrish 4, Hicks 5, Wallace 2.
Score by quarters:
Beddingfield 15 8 15 15 — 53
North Johnston 12 11 12 22 — 57