DURHAM — The Person and Hillside boys’ basketball teams already had their PAC-6 tournament fates decided before Friday’s matchup. Both teams were locked into their seeding, were going to be on the road for Tuesday’s opening round and need to win the whole tournament to lock up a playoff bid.
But only Hillside will be going in with the momentum of a victory after using a strong fourth-quarter to pull away from Person 75-64 Friday on the final night of the regular season.
The Rockets (8-16 overall, 2-8) will be the fifth seed in next week’s PAC-6 tournament and have dropped their last three games after upsetting PAC-6 cochampion Jordan Feb. 3. Person will travel to fourth-seed Riverside Tuesday night, just seven days after losing to the Pirates 69-55 on that same floor.
Riverside won both matchups this season, with the backcourt of C.J. Carpenter and Eric Peaks combining for 41 points in Tuesday’s victory.
“They’ve got some big guys and they hurt us on the offensive glass.,” Person coach Charles Dacus said of Riverside. “They hurt us on the interior. We were late rotating and their big guys got good position, and when they get it deep, you’re at their mercy. We’ve got to do a much better job in post defense, and we definitely have to do a much better job guarding the 3-point line because they shot the lights out.”
Friday’s game at Hillside was a game of runs, with the Hornets making that last push.
Hillside had its biggest lead of the game at the time, 46-38 after Robert Robinson Jr. drained a three with 1:43 to play in the third quarter. The Rockets turned the ball over on their next trip up the floor, and Hillside had a 2-on-1 fast break until freshman Brendan Goodson sprinted down the floor and deflected the ball of Robinson, giving Person the ball back.
The Rockets closed the quarter on an 8-1 run and cut the Hornets lead to 47-46 when Tyrique Wright hit a baseline jumper in the final seconds of the third. Person was able to take the lead early in the fourth on a Goodson layup off a dish from D.J. Jeffers, but the Hornets dominated the next four minutes, outscoring the Rockets 15-5 to seize control of the game.
Hillside outscored Person 28- 15 in the fourth quarter and did much of its damage from the free throw line.
The Hornets connected on 13- of-14 free throws in the fourth quarter and 26-of-29 for the game.
Robinson, celebrating his final regular season home game, had a game-high 21 points and drained all nine of his free throws, including seven in the fourth quarter.
“I thought we were pretty solid at the start of the third quarter, but it came unraveled,” Dacus said. “We fought back to get it to one, but it came unraveled on us again and we had to foul and they were just too good at the line. Once they got about a 5-7 point lead they did a good of slowing it down. We had to change defenses up. They were so spread out and so determined that they were going to run some clock that they kept us spread out and we couldn’t do a lot with them and we had to go into fouling mode.”
Ebon Jay led the Rockets with a double-double 15 points and 12 rebounds. The sophomore had eight points in the second quarter to help Person rally from a seven-point hole late in the first half.
Jeffers scored 12 points and dished out 10 assists, while Mike Terry added eight points.
Antwon Smith battled foul trouble for much of the game and finished with nine points.
Goodson came on in the second half and chipped in six points, while Xavier Bryant and Everette Palmer each hit threes in the final seconds.
Jalen McGee poured in 18 points for Hillside, with 14 coming in the second half.
The Hornets will travel to East Chapel Hill Tuesday night in the opening round of the PAC- 6 tournament. East won both meetings between the teams, including a 51-50 thriller in late January. Hillside only won twice in conference play this season, but has four losses of four points or less and two one-point defeats.
East is coming into the postseason on a three-game winning streak, including a 50-48 upset of Jordan Friday night.
Jordan will likely be without its best player Mike Lee for the tournament and last year’s PAC- 6 Player of the Year, Kentrell Barkley from Northern Durham, has been limited because of injuries for much of the season.
“I personally feel that pretty much any of the six teams can win this tournament,” Dacus said. “Hillside’s lost I know a couple of games by one point and one in overtime. They’ve been right there. East Chapel Hill’s been able to keep people in the 40s and get you in their kind of game. It really is anybody’s game, especially since a couple of the big guys aren’t at 100-percent. I think it bodes well for folks like us that are on the outside looking in. We’re capable of taking care of business.”