|Independence leads SW 4A, but challengers loom|
|Published Thursday, January 31, 2013 8:29 am|
The Southwestern 4A boys’ basketball race is tightening.
|South Mecklenburg center Malcolm Mathews (30) dunks over Ardrey Kell’s Tate Small in a Southwestern 4A game on Jan. 28. Ardrey Kell won 60-45. Mathews finished with 14 points.|
Independence High is atop the standings, but Ardrey Kell is on a roll after beating the Patriots and South Mecklenburg on successive nights this week.
The Knights (16-3, 6-3) made their move on Jan. 28 with a 60-45 win against South Mecklenburg at home Monday to pull into a tie for second with the Sabres, two games behind Independence. The next night, Ardrey Kell dereailed Independence’s 10-game win streak with a 62-55 victory that cut the Patriots’ lead to a game.
“Just so many people stepped up for us,” Knights coach Mike Craft said after beating South. “We had to have this game. We had to have it or we were going to be way back. It was a must win and we knew that coming in.”
Sophomore guard Steven Santa-Ana leads Ardrey Kell in scoring with 18.6 points per outing, while senior forward Tate Small averages 15.2 per game.
Independence (14-5, 7-2) is playing its best ball in coach Preston Davis’ four seasons. The Patriots, who suffered through single-digit campaigns during his three previous seasons, are capable of producing a championship behind guard Tayon Gleaves who averages 13.8 points per game, wing Deion Lane (12.2 ppg) and point guard Marcus Graves, who averages 10.7 points and 4.7 assists.
“The first half of the conference run, we worked hard and got ourselves in position (to succeed),” said Davis, who played on the Patriots’ 1999 state championship team. “We did have a two game lead, we’re still in front. I told my kids we’re still where we want to be.”
Said Craft of Independence: “They’ve got a really good club. They won 10 in a row, and you don’t win 10 in a row if you’re (not) good. …They don’t quit.”
South Mecklenburg (10-8, 6-3) has the league’s best big man in 6-9 senior center Malcolm Mathews, who averages 17 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. With Mathews as an anchor, the Sabres have the defensive presence to remain in position for a higher seed.
“We’ve worked really hard on our defensive footwork,” South coach John Fitch said.
There’s plenty of opportunity for more movement. Ardrey Kell swept Independence, but need to beat Myers Park on Friday to remain in the hunt.
“They beat us the last time, so we’ve got them coming in,” Craft said. “It’s not over. It’s a tough week.”
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