A little more than two weeks ago, Lexington traveled to Aiken and came away with a 16-point loss, its first in Region 5-4A. The rematch was Friday night and, while many things were similar, the outcome was much different.
The Wildcats played stellar defense and found enough offense to pull away for a 59-47 victory against the Hornets to stake claim to the top spot in the region with two games to play,
“We control our destiny but we can’t lose,” Lexington coach Bailey Harris, who improved to 24-2 on Senior Night, said. “We have no margin of error because we aren’t looking very good on tiebreakers. We have to go on the road the final two game but this puts us in a good position. I told our seniors, this is all you can ask for coming down the stretch. It’s up to us. If we lose, we don’t deserve it.”
Lexington holds a one-game lead on the Hornets and North Augusta. The Wildcats will finish with road games against Dutch Fork and White Knoll while the two second-place teams meet Tuesday night.
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It was sloppy on both sides but it was a couple of key areas — and one key sequence — that allowed Lexington (16-8, 6-2) to hold on in the fourth quarter.
After making 14-of-20 from the free throw line in the opening three quarters, the Wildcats connected on 10-of-13 in the fourth quarter. They also managed six offensive rebounds that turned into six second-chance points but, more important, allowed them to run more time off the clock.
Aiken (15-7, 5-3) was making a final push toward the lead by scoring the first three points of the third quarter to make it 41-37. But a bad 13 seconds for the Hornets proved pivotal.
Coach Tony Harrell was whistled for a technical foul as Will Hunter scored on a breakaway layup with 6:08 remaining. Grant Hendrix made the two technical free throws and Gates polished off the six-point possession with a tip-in to push the lead to 47-37 with 5:55 remaining.
“I put my kids in a bad situation and we weren’t able to overcome that,” Harrell said. “It goes from a four-point game to a 10-point game and it was an uphill battle from then on.”
The lead was never fewer than five points the rest of the way.
“That was a huge possession,” Harris said. “Six-point plays are nice.”
The Wildcats finished with 23 turnovers and Aiken had 17 after having five in the first meeting between the schools. And, unlike the first meeting, the turnovers didn’t turn into easy baskets for the Hornets.
“We turned it over 23 times and won by double-digits,” Harris said. “I think some of it is we didn’t give them easy transition buckets. When we didn’t turn it over against their press, we got some cheap, easy ones on the offensive end.”
Harrell thought the defense by Lexington was the difference.
“We didn’t get many transition buckets and we turned it over quite a few times ourselves,” Harrell said. “The first game we only had five turnovers. It wasn’t one of our best offensive nights. We hold a team in the 50s you feel pretty good about it but we couldn’t get anything going so you have to credit the way they played defense.”
Nelson Spence added 12 points for the Wildcats in a balanced attack.
A: Dramel Coleman 15, Shawn Moore 13, McKie 6, Hill 4, Habersham 4, Toole 3, Hicks 2. L: Nygel Gates 15, Nelson Spence 12, Blake 8, Hendrix 7, Bishop 6, Branham 6, Haney 2, Hunter 2, Davis 1.