Friday, 14 February 2020 12:19

Stoner, McNeil combine to lead No. 2 Rockets to SEMSAC title game

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Rockingham's Talan Stoner drained six three-pointers in the Rockets' playoff win on Thursday. Rockingham's Talan Stoner drained six three-pointers in the Rockets' playoff win on Thursday. Kyle Pillar — Sports Editor.

ROCKINGHAM — Rockingham boys’ basketball coach Julius Bowden had an inkling that if eighth graders Paul McNeil and Talan Stoner each had a strong performance Thursday, then the Rockets would advance to the Southeastern Middle School Athletic Conference title game.

And his inference proved correct, as McNeil and Stoner combined for 37 points as the No. 2 Rockets made easy work of No. 6 Carver in the semifinal matchup. Rockingham cruised to a 55-30 win.

McNeil netted a game-high 19 points, while Stoner had his shot dialed in from beyond the arc, rattling home a game-high six three-pointers for 18 points.

“Talan makes three-pointers in practice all the time and he’s had open looks this season,” Bowden said. “But tonight he came up big and he kept building his confidence. I knew that if he and Paul played well, we’d be all right.

“Paul is the ship captain,” he added of McNeil. “Wherever he goes, we’ll go. He plays with a lot of confidence, attacks the basket, makes a lot of good decisions and is an unselfish player. By him getting everyone involved changed the flow of the game.”

The win puts the Rockets in the championship game for the first time since they finished as the conference runner-up in 2018.

Stoner connected on three triples in each half, and started the game with two in the first quarter for six points. McNeil began his night with six points, all on field goals, while fellow eighth grader Jada Zimmerman netted all five of his points on a three-pointer and two foul shots.

Leading 19-3 after the first quarter, the Rockets added 11 more points in the second stanza to take a 20-point lead, 30-10, into the locker room.

Opening the second on a 9-0 run, Rockingham used a Stoner triple, four points from McNeil and a basket from James Eason to take a 25-point lead. 

Carver wouldn’t go away quietly, starting the third period on a 7-0 run to pull within 13 points. But two more Stoner triples and seven more points from McNeil erased the run by the Eagles.

Jaziah Liles and Noah Jenks joined the scoring mix, each adding a bucket, and the Rockets took a 25-point lead into the fourth.

Bowden played his reserve players for much of the final quarter, but Stoner added his sixth shot from three-point land in the opening seconds. The largest lead of the game for the Rockets came when Ahavier McDonald laid in a transition basket to put the home team up 30 points.

Now the Rockets (9-1) will prepare for No. 1 West Hoke Middle School (10-0), which beat No. 5 Sandy Grove Middle School in the semifinals. Rockingham’s lone loss of the year came to the Tigers early in the season.

“West Hoke is a tough team,” Bowden said. “We got into foul trouble and we finished the game earlier in the season with a lot of my seventh graders playing. But I think we’ll be all right if we take the same game plan that we had tonight and use it against them.

“I feel confident that we can win,” Bowden closed.

The date and time of the SEMSAC title game is to be determined. ROSports will update this article when the information is available.

Last modified on Friday, 14 February 2020 12:20

Kyle Pillar

Sports Editor. IUP communications media and journalism alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy.

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