W-S Prep takes Lash title

W-S Prep takes Lash title
December 29
00:00 2014
(pictured above: The Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy Phoenix celebrate their big win. Photos by Charles E. Leftwich Jr.)

Once again, pressure defense delivered big-time for unbeaten Winston-Salem Prep. The Phoenix forced two late-game turnovers which led to points in a 69-64 win over West Forsyth in the Lash-Chronicle Holiday Classic championship game played at Carver on Monday night.

Titan Mason Matrey shoots over Caleb Burgess.

Titan Mason Matrey shoots over Caleb Burgess.

Prep’s Caleb Burgess on the move.

Prep’s Caleb Burgess on the move.

Prep's Justin Carter (5) battles West Forsyth's Kyron Watson for a rebound  Monday night.

Prep’s Justin Carter (5) battles West Forsyth’s Kyron Watson for a rebound Monday night.

Clinging to a 65-64 lead with 40 seconds to go in regulation, Prep’s defense forced an errant West Forsyth pass that led to Keith Watson’s fast-break basket. On the next West possession, relentless pressure caused a deflection and Watson grabbed the loose ball and was fouled. His two free throws put the game out of reach and the celebration on Prep’s bench started in earnest. The Phoenix has won three Lash-Chronicle titles over the past four years.



“This could be the most complete team I’ve ever had at Prep,” said Coach Bill Tibbs. “The talent level is outstanding. I believe in our guys and they believe in our style of play.”

Prep’s style is predicated on wearing opponents down with non-stop pressure. Over the course of a game, teams tend to rush their offense and by the fourth quarter, they’re more prone to commit floor errors at the most crucial times in a tightly-contested game.

Watson, who was voted Tournament MVP, turned in one of his best offensive performances of the season. His output of 17 points included Prep’s final four points of the game which provided the margin of victory.

Tournament MVP Keith Watson (22) goes up for a shot against West Forsyth's Ben Uloko (32) and Mason Matrey (12).

Tournament MVP Keith Watson (22) goes up for a shot against West Forsyth’s Ben Uloko (32) and Mason Matrey (12).

“When you’re feeling it like I did tonight, the shots start falling,” said Watson. “But I don’t worry about points. I rely on my defense to create my offense. This was an intense game. Things went down to the last minute and we were able to make the big plays coming down the stretch.”

Brandon Palmer finished the night as Prep’s leading scorer with 21 points. Aside from Palmer and Watson, the 10-0 Phoenix got solid contributions from Justin Carter (14 points) and Caleb Burgess (11 points).

West Forsyth (6-5) was a surprise finalist as the No.7 seed. The Titans proved their legitimacy by beating second-seeded Parkland (75-61) in the quarterfinals and No. 3 East Forsyth (62-46) in the semifinals.

Kamonyi Becton put up MVP-type numbers for West with 21 points and eight rebounds. Dwight Palmer followed with 12 points. “I don’t feel like we were focused enough at the start of the game,” said Becton. “We let them get inside our heads. There are more games for us to play this season and I know we can get better.”

With the game tied at 64 with 1:01 left to play, the Titans appeared to be in good position to pull off another tournament upset. Instead, an unfortunate sequence of events derailed their title hopes. “We hurt our chances with a couple of turnovers and a missed lay-up,” said Jeffrey Williams. “That’s what ended the game for us. Prep made the plays when it was most needed. This was a good experience for us and we’ll learn from it as we go forward.”

Midway through the first quarter, West Forsyth went on a 10-1 blitz that caught Prep by surprise. Down 20-9 late in the quarter, the Phoenix slowly worked its way back into contention and trailed 38-35 at the half.

“This team is young and we got off to a slow start,” said Tibbs. “We were so anxious at the beginning. Once we got settled and got our nerves under control, I knew we’d be all right.”

Semifinal Drama

Malik Miles (12) and his Reagan teammates give Prep all it can handle in the semifinals.

Malik Miles (12) and his Reagan teammates give Prep all it can handle in the semifinals.

The road that Prep traveled to reach the tournament championship game was anything but smooth. At times, it seemed like the Phoenix might be ripe for an upset. As things turned out, Prep made all the right moves at the right times to top Reagan 60-53 in a semifinal match-up that could easily have gone the other way.

The final outcome wasn’t decided until the closing seconds of the fourth quarter. Palmer converted a pair of free throws to give his team a 58-51 cushion, which sealed the win and guaranteed the Raiders their spot in the game for third place that was played on Monday.

Reagan made a valiant run at the Phoenix, but it wasn’t enough. Malik Miles and Maverick LaRue contributed 16 points apiece in a losing effort.

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Craig Greenlee

Craig Greenlee

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