Jan. 23—CUMBERLAND — No. 4 Southern hung around for most of the first three quarters, however, top-ranked Fort Hill took control early in the fourth quarter in a 70-45 victory on Monday.
"I thought we were a little sluggish, but all in all I thought we competed and made plays when we had to," Fort Hill head coach Thad Burner said. "We did some things a little uncharacteristically, but overall it's a good win."
The Sentinels (8-2, 4-0 WestMAC) led for nearly the entire game and never trailed, but the Rams (7-5, 2-3 WestMAC) kept it within reach.
"Defensively, I thought we were really sluggish," Southern head coach Hunter Broadwater said. "We had a totally different game plan from when we played Allegany on Saturday. I think we had a little bit of a sluggish start and it hurt us really bad."
Tied at 2 early in the game, Fort Hill went on a 10-2 run to lead 12-4 with 3:22 left in the first quarter.
Gavin Carney led the Sentinels with six points in the quarter and he led all scorers at halftime with eight points and finished with 12 and a steal.
"Gavin gets better every day," Burner said. "We did a little better job of getting him the ball inside. Him and Liam (Hamilton) were doing a better job of catching the ball, we're doing a better job of bounce passing it to them in the lane."
Southern responded with an 8-5 run to cut the deficit to 17-12 with 46 seconds to go. Braige Hardesty set up Isaiah Keller for a 3-pointer.
Keller scored a game-high 16 points with four 3-pointers.
"He shot the ball well for us," Broadwater said. "Hit some shots we needed him to hit."
In the final seconds of the quarter, Jabril Daniels found Gamil Daniels for a floater to give the Sentinels a 19-12 lead.
Jabril Daniels led Fort Hill with 15 points including four 3-pointers. He also had five steals and three assists.
"He's worked really hard at it," Burner said of Daniels' shooting. "He's worked really hard to become a better shooter. He's got our blessing to shoot the basketball."
Gamil Daniels added 10 points, two assists and a steal.
The Rams cut the deficit down to four 48 seconds into the second quarter on a 3-pointer from Jared Haskiell off of a Keller assist.
Haskiell finished with 11 points and a steal.
That would be the closest Southern got the remainder of the game. Deshaun Brown hit back-to-back 3-pointers to push the Sentinel lead back up to 10.
His second shot was from at least five feet behind the line.
Brown finished with 14 points, three assists and three steals.
A technical foul on the Fort Hill bench gave the Rams four free throws to potentially make it a two-possession game, however, Southern missed the final three.
A pair of free throws by Keller with 10 seconds left kept it a 10-point game at halftime with Fort Hill up 34-24.
Two factors prevented Southern from going on sustained runs in the first half.
The Sentinels utilized a combination of double teams and presses near the 3-point line, and it worked.
Southern shot 3 of 10 from deep, but went 6 of 9 inside the arc to keep the shooting percentage at 50% from the field.
"We knew they were gonna double team us, we knew they were gonna pressure us on the front," Broadwater said. "Offensively, we have to be tougher. Get downhill and attack more."
The second major factor was turnovers. The Rams committed 12 in the first half including seven in the second quarter.
"We had way too many turnovers," Broadwater said. "We didn't turn it over on Saturday, we did a good job at that. Today, we turn it over a ton and you see what happens."
Eight of the 12 came of Sentinel steals led by Jabril Daniels and Brown who each had a pair.
Southern kept it a three- or four-possession game for most of the third quarter and brought the deficit down to eight on a 3-pointer by Keller.
Fort Hill ended the quarter on a 6-2 run capped off by an and-one layup by Carney off a Steven Spencer assist off an inbound.
"It was good because I felt we couldn't push ahead," Burner said. "We couldn't get that lead up past 12 to 13, so that was a big bucket."
Spencer finished with nine assists, four points and three steals.
"Steven played good, particularly late third into the fourth quarter," Burner said. "Steven plays with high energy and I think you saw that late in the game."
It pushed the Sentinel lead back up to 12 points at the end of the third at 50-38.
Fort Hill opened the fourth quarter on a 17-3 run to surge the lead to 21 points.
The highlight came with 5:12 left when Jabril Daniels set up Brown for a stepback jumper to push the lead to 19 points.
The defender dropped to the floor as Brown buried the shot, receiving a thunderous reaction from the home bench and fans.
Brown capped the run with an assist to Jabril Daniels for a 3-pointer, pushing the lead to 67-41 with 3:47 left.
The Rams have faced two of the top three area teams in No. 3 Allegany and Fort Hill back-to-back. It doesn't get any easier with a trip to Tucker County on Friday at 5:45 p.m.
The Mountain Lions (8-2) are the top-ranked Class A team in the West Virginia coach's poll.
"They're gonna be another tough game," Broadwater said. "It's a real tough part of our schedule."
Fort Hill plays at Northern on Tuesday before playing at Washington on Thursday at 7 p.m.
Jordan Kendall is a Sports Writer for the Cumberland Times-News. Email him with scores and story suggestions at email@example.com.