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One good old-fashioned barn burner

LINDEN — Southern Academy rode the strength of its bread-and-butter press defense to a 57-50 win over regional rival Marengo Academy Monday night.

“Got to give Southern credit,” Marengo head coach Danny Stenz said. “They hustled their hearts out.”

Down the stretch, the Longhorns struggled to overcome the press defense utilized by the Cougars.

“We’re a pressing team, and we do a great job of that,” Southern head coach Shaun Bonds said of his team’s effectiveness in using the pressure defense. “We’ve played 12 quarters (over three games against Marengo Academy this season) and seven points’ difference between us.”

The Cougars carried a 24-16 lead late in the second quarter when Longhorn sophomore Matt Wallace caught the ball on the left wing and drained a three-pointer to cut into the lead. Two possessions later, with the score still reflecting a 24-19 SA advantage, Wood Collins found himself wide open with the ball on the right wing. He popped a trey of his own just before the buzzer sounded to send the Horns to the half down only 24-22.

“That was definitely a big lift for us,” Stenz said. “That got us back in the ball game.”

The Longhorns charged out of the gate in the third quarter when senior Dustin McIntyre stroked a three-pointer to give Marengo Academy its only lead of the game.

The Cougars ratcheted up the intensity defense again, sparking a six-point run that put the team back out in front with a five-point lead.

Southern soon built on its success, stretching its lead to eight before MA senior Chris Whitaker picked up a loose ball and unfurled a floater from inside the lane that tore through the twine just before the third quarter buzzer sounded to put the Longhorns down 42-36 at the start of the final period of play.

“That was definitely a big shot,” Stenz said. “It definitely gave us a lift going into the fourth quarter.”

The Longhorns clawed their way back into the game in fourth quarter. Senior John Carlton drew a foul with 4:25 to go. The center stepped to the line and dropped in both of his charity shot attempts to cut the lead to 47-42.

Just over a minute later, Carlton went up over two Cougar defenders for a tip-in to put his team back to within five at 49-44.

“John is pretty much the team leader,” Stenz said. “the boys tend to fall in line behind him. He brings the physicalness we need.”

Carlton struck again with 1:39 to go, cashing in on all three free-throw attempts after drawing contact while shooting a trey. That visit to the line put MA down 53-48.

With 1:23 remaining on the game clock, McIntyre absorbed a foul before stepping to the line and coolly putting in both of his free throws to get Marengo to within three points.

The Longhorns seemed to have their shot 11 seconds later when Matt Wallace snared a Cougar pass and headed the other direction to give Marengo possession down only one shot.

The opportunity was lost when a Longhorn three-point attempt went awry, caroming into Cougar clutches with 47 seconds remaining.

The Longhorns managed to stretch the game out over the two possessions, sending Southern to the line and watching the Cougars shoot only 50 percent from the stripe in the game’s final minute.

However, the comeback attempt fell shy when the Horns committed an open-court turnover in the waning moments that fed a Southern transition bucket to ice the game with a seven-point loss.

Southern’s Ryan Averette led all scorers with 22 points. Sam Kelley added 10.

Carlton anchored the Longhorn effort with 12 points, 10 rebounds and three steals. McIntyre added nine points and two blocked shots. Wallace finished the night with eight points and five steals. Weldon Fultz also had five steals.

“We’ve got a ways to go,” Bonds said of his team. “We’ve got such a big one coming up Friday with Meadowview over there.”

The win means Southern and Marengo split their two-game regional series, leaving the squads mired in a three-team race for the region championship.

“I tell them we’ve got another ball game (tonight),” Stenz said of his team’s need to rebound from the emotional loss quickly. “We’re in a spot where we can’t lose another region game.”

The Longhorns travel to Clarke Prep tonight before returning to region play to face Pickens Academy on the road Thursday.