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Boys Basketball: Leo overcomes Carver

Updated: April 6, 2014 6:34AM



Tuesday night, Leo saw the best and brightest and a future worth getting excited about.

Three Leo sophomores made vitally important plays. Emerging star guard Darius Branch scored 14 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter. All told, the Lions stormed back from an 11-point deficit to beat Carver 74-67 in a Class 2A Robeson Sectional semifinal.

“My team was counting on me, and I couldn’t let them down,” Branch said. “I just wanted to win so badly.”

Branch scored 14 of the Lions’ final 17 points. The only three points for which he did not directly account proved the difference. Sophomore Darias Oliver drilled a three-pointer with 1:12 remaining to push Leo to a 70-67 advantage.

“We had a play designed for him to get a midrange jumper, but you know, sophomores, they think any shot is a good one,” Leo coach Noah Cannon said.

Oliver scored 13 points and added six rebounds for the Lions.

“I was feeling good at that point, so I took the shot, and it felt good as soon as it left my hand,” he said.

The quick and explosive Branch scored 22 points in the second half as Leo (14-13) erased a 44-34 deficit midway through the third quarter.

Carver led by as much as 31-20 in the first half. Martez Hampton kept the Lions close, scoring 14 of his 18 points in the first half.

Branch took control in the second half.

“We had to fight back and get into the game,” Branch said.

Taking advantage of Carver’s missed free throws and turnovers, Leo stunned Carver with a 16-5 closing burst.

Leo took its first lead, at 50-49, on a tip-in by Latrell Giles that closed out the quarter.

Leo’s third sophomore starter, guard Kewan Smith (10 points), scored off a loose ball as Leo led by as much as 55-50 in the fourth quarter.

Carver’s Charles Johnson scored nine of his team-high 18 points in the fourth quarter. His three-point play in transition marked the final advantage of the Challengers (16-6) at 64-63 with 2:32 remaining.

Jacob Beal (14 points) scored with just over two minutes left knotted the score at 67, just the game’s second tie. Branch converted 10-of-10 from the foul line in the fourth quarter. His four free throws in the final 21 seconds sealed the victory.

“We practice hard, we play hard and it showed out there tonight,” he said. “We’re trying to win a state championship.”

Christopher Evans added 15 points and Henry Tiggs 12 for the Challengers.



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