DUBLIN — Sayaun Dent led a West Bladen rally with 15 points in the second half and the Knights knocked off Dillon, S.C., in the championship of the fifth annual Woodman Life Christmas Tournament on Friday, 59-57.
For West Bladen, it was their third straight championship, ninth straight win in the tournament over the past three years and eighth straight win this season.
“For us to go and play such an athletic, well-coached team and do what we did … ” Knights coach Travis Pait said. “We stayed calm and I’m just very proud of this team.”
The two teams battled back and forth through the opening quarter with no more than a three-point swing either way. John Bowen drained a three-pointer to start the game and, Jimmy Williams followed a Wildcats basket with one of his own. But Dillon knocked down a three and the Knights answered with tree free throws — one from Kalvin Page and two from Dent.
The Wildcats went on a 5-0 spurt for a 10-8 lead, but Dent knotted it up at 10-10 with a basket with 30 seconds left in the period. Dillon, however, raced to the other end and hit a bucket just before the buzzer to take a 12-10 edge.
In the second stanza, the Wildcats opened with another 5-0 run to build a 17-10 advantage before Jonathan Robinson and Bowen each hit baskets for West Bladen. After a Dillon basket, Dent canned a bucket and Page hit a free throw to pull the Knights within 19-17. Dillon found the range beyond the arc and hit two three-pointers before halftime, while the Knights got an old-fashioned three-point play from Williams, a basket each by Robinson and Page, and a pair of free throws from Dent to go into halftime trailing by just 29-26.
Dillon hit two more three-pointers in the third quarter, but West Bladen manufactured a trio of mini runs of 4-0, 4-0 and 5-0 as Dent scored 11 points in the quarter. A basket by Page and an old-fashioned three-point play by Dent gave West Bladen a 45-42 edge as the period was coming to a close, but the Wildcats pushed the ball to the arc and hit a three-pointer to tie the game before the buzzer.
Dillon opened the final frame with a bucket and Bowen answered with a huge dunk at the other end. After another Dillon basket, Dent buried a three-pointer and, following a Wildcats basket, West Bladen went on a 5-0 run on baskets by Bowen and Robinson and a free throw by Dent for a 55-51 lead with less than 2 minutes to go.
The Wildcats raced to the edge of the arc and nailed a three-pointer, but West Bladen responded with a basket and two free throws from Page. Dillon hit another three-pointer with less than 10 seconds left and the clock ran out from there.
“So many guys played well; Sayaun was a real warrior,” Pait said. “To win a tournament like this … it was a huge win for us.”
Dent led the Knights with 23 points and was named the tournament MVP. Page contributed 12 points, eight rebounds and three steals for the Knights and was named to the all-tournament team. Bowen added 11 points and seven rebounds for West Bladen.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.