LEESBURG -- Trailing by two points late in the third quarter, Heritage re-gained a lead heading into the fourth and never surrendered it on their way to a 65-63 win on the road against Lee County in the first round of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs.
The Patriots managed to build a five-point lead with just over two minutes remaining in the fourth and were able to hold on down the stretch behind four big points late from junior guard RJ Noord.
Standout junior James White erupted for a game-high 31 points while Noord finished his night with nine. Courtney McBride and Chase Lackey each scored seven points in the win while Christian Davis chipped in with six.
First-year Heritage head coach Brian Anderson credited his team’s ability to adjust on the fly when their original game plan started to crumble.
“We came out in a defense we thought we would be successful in and we went down nine points early,” Anderson said. “We had to change the defense and it kind of got us back in the game.
“In the fourth quarter, we went back to the defensive plan we had to start the game with and had success down the stretch. It wasn’t how we drew it up, but the guys adjusted well and we stayed aggressive on the offensive end. That was the difference.”
Lee County held an 18-17 lead at the end of the first quarter, but it didn’t take long for the Patriots to grab its first lead of the game in the second. By halftime, the Patriots led 34-29 with White leading the Patriots in scoring with 14 points.
“I told (James) that he needed to get a quick one at the rim to get himself going in the third quarter,” Anderson said. “Once that happens, the floodgates open for him. He’s that kind of player. Once he got to the rim early in the third, those three’s started following next. They were double teaming RJ, so (James) did a good job stepping up offensively.”
The Patriots (19-10) maintained their five-point lead for the first three minutes of the third quarter before the Trojans made a run. Lee County out-scored Heritage 15-9 over the next four-plus minutes to regain a one-point lead 47-46.
The lead proved to be momentary for the Trojans, who immediately lost it in the final seconds of the quarter on a White three-pointer, his second of the quarter to give the Patriots a 49-47 lead heading into the fourth.
Heritage never trailed in the fourth and as a result, were able to advance to their third straight Sweet 16.
Anderson credited his team’s ability to find the open man in the closing minutes of the fourth when Lee County began to press the Patriots looking to steal the game.
“They were trapping out of desperation and we were able to swing it to the open man,” Anderson said. “I was really proud of the unselfishness there to close out the game.”
The Patriots will travel to fifth-ranked Chattahoochee(21-7) in the Round of 16 after the Cougars were able to eek out a three-point win, 69-66 over Alexander Friday night.