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Leopards fight off Gators

Feb. 2—Lakewood shocked the Gators after a long up and down contest which saw East Columbus get the advantage in the first half. The Leopards shocked the visitors with supreme and relentless play that put down East Columbus for good, taking their second win over them, 61-54.

The Leopards came out sluggish with the early goings of the contest looking bleak for the home team as East Columbus came out roaring. From their last encounter, the Gators were looking to stamp out the Lakewood momentum and managed to out score the Leopards, 11-4. There was time left on the clock and Cameron Williams came up in a big way and bullied his way into the paint to put up more as he was the only one who had scored in the first. He'd snag four more points to cap off his run for the quarter as the Gators lost ground against the relentless Leopards. Jaziah Brunson would break through on a tough drive into the lane for the final score of the round and Lakewood trailed by one going into the second, 11-10.

East Columbus came in the game roaring but the tempo had been slowed by an array of penalties as the referees were spotting multiple travels and shoulder bumps in the paint. This in turn shunted the Leopards advance and they struggled to get anything going while the Gators were able shore up and stack some insurance points. Kristofer Robinson, who'd been quiet in the first, was able to nab five points for his team with a slick shot and tough layup in traffic to keep Lakewood alive. At halftime, the Gators had a six point lead 25-19.

The visitors were greeted by a different Lakewood team entering the second half as they were smacked in the face by their fierce play. Though East Columbus held their own, they couldn't stifle them the way they had in the first half. Everyone was in sync and their play had been cleaned up, leaving the Gators flat-footed. J'Kwon McKoy would be the hero of the quarter after remaining silent in the first half. The first time starter showed his moxie and accuracy, sinking two three pointers that re-ignited the Lakewood team. His second snipe was tightly contested causing him to lose his footing and fall while throwing up the rock, he netted the three and earned a visit to the charity stripe for a potential four point play, which he'd convert.

This effort led to Williams taking a shot beyond the perimeter which barely skimmed the rim for the swish on Lakewood's massive comeback. The Gators managed to stay in it despite the rampant scoring from the Leopards and trailed by four. The home team rallied ahead, scoring 25 points, the most they'd score in a quarter during the contest. Lakewood led East Columbus, 44-40.

In the final frame the drama escalated as penalties befell both sides in critical moments as the teams fought vigorously for victory. Lakewood managed to keep up the pressure and the Gators continued to push back, forcing the Leopards to adjust. As the gap shortened between them, East Columbus was generating steam and the home team began to stumble.

This didn't last though and Lakewood pulled together, thwarting the Gators advances and creating opportunities of their own. In desperation, East Columbus resorted to fouling but this did little to shunt the Leopards and they would take the victory, 61-54.

Reach Anthony McConnaughey at amcconnaughey@clintonnc.com, X @SampsonSports or on the Sampson Independent Facebook page