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Southern wins big in playoff debut

Feb. 29—Southern Lee's left no doubt in the Cavaliers' first playoff win in five years.

The Cavaliers took control in the opening minutes of their NCHSAA 3A state men's basketball playoff opener against Carrboro and cruised into the second round with an 84-38 victory Tuesday night at Cavalier Court.

It was the first playoff game for Southern (23-4 overall) since the team won the championship of the old Tri-County Conference in the 2020-21 season. However, the Cavaliers were knocked out in the opening round and did not qualify for the postseason in 2022 or 2023. Southern last won a playoff game on Feb. 28, 2019, when it beat Wilson Fike 83-74 in the second round.

The Cavaliers advanced to the second round and will take on East Wake (22-5) Friday night at 7 p.m., also at home. The Warriors ran the table in the Quad-County 3A this season and beat Burlington Williams 81-51 in the opening round Tuesday night.

On paper, Southern wasn't expected to have too much trouble with Carrboro and didn't. The Jaguars were fifth in the Northern Lakes 2A/3A and snuck into the playoffs as the 26th seed. They proved simply not to have the firepower needed to deal with the Cavaliers, who went to a double-digit lead for the first time when TJ Carnegie hit a 3-pointer on a third-chance opportunity at the 1:03 mark of the opening period. That made it 20-9, and Southern was up 24-11 after one quarter.

The Cavaliers were just getting started. They opened the second with an 18-2 run, highlighted by a breakaway dunk from Cooper Harrington two and a half minutes in and a dominant flurry from Ja'mauri Hall, who scored seven points and had two steals in the last two minutes of the first half. The home team led 48-13 at intermission.

After Southern's recent state champion bowling team was honored at the half, the Cavaliers cruised home in the second half. Carrboro (11-14) staved off the mercy rule in the third quarter, but the Cavaliers got close when Caleb Waters drilled an 18-footer right before the clock hit triple zeroes, putting the lead at 69-30. BJ Blanks drove to the run 27 seconds into the fourth to give the Cavaliers a 40-point lead.

Head coach Gaston Collins cleared his bench with 2:21 remaining, and fan favorite A.J. Pogoncheff hit nothing but net on a 3-pointer from the right corner for the last Cavalier points of the night. His shot extended the lead to 52 points, but the Jaguars scored three baskets after that for the final score.

Isaiah Upchurch led the Cavaliers with 18 points and Jaden Best added 16. Harrington and Hall each had nine, Nysheed Williams eight, Carnegie and BJ Blanks five each, Waters and Marcus Tate-Blanks four each, and Pogoncheff three. Kamauri Davis had two and Robbie Sims one.