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Little push sends Providence to state

LILBURN -- All Alan Skinner needed was a little push.

The Providence junior center struggled in the first half against Greenforest, fumbling passes away, missing his driving layups. By halftime he had just four points, all from the free throw line, despite often finding the gaps in the Eagles' zone.

"Alan is the kind of kid who needs a little motivation from time to time," Providence head coach Ivan Iverson said.

Iverson, soft-spoken for a basketball coach, reminded his team that Wednesday's game would either begin a playoff run or end their season. Motivation enough.

"I just came out knowing that if we lost we wouldn't be playing," Skinner said. "Our season would be no more."

Skinner made sure it continued, scoring 16 of his game-high 20 points in a second half that saw the Stars roll to a dominating 64-49 win over the Eagles and advance in the Region 7-A tournament. The win puts Providence back in the playoffs for the first time in eight years.

"We have had a good year and to come out and lose this game would be somewhat of a letdown," Iverson said. "Now we just move on round to round."

Taking things in stride works for Iverson and the Stars. It worked for them against Greenforest, a team that beat them earlier in the year.

First was finding comfort against the Eagles' zone defense. It didn't come quickly. The Stars fell behind 11-4 early in the first quarter and struggled to do more than pass the ball around the perimeter. But a timeout following a 3-pointer by the Eagles' Joe Chase settled the Stars down and by the end of the quarter, the deficit was just three points at 11-8.

Before a motivated Skinner put the Eagles away, it was a versatile Nate Bucher who erased the deficit. Bucher scored seven of his 19 points in the second quarter where a three-point deficit turned into a seven-point lead.

"I could tell the guys were a little nervous," Iverson said of the bumpy start. "Our guys got comfortable and confident and that made all the difference."

Peter Hage added six of his 15 points as part of the 20-6 run to end the half.

Skinner watched much of the second quarter from the bench. Watching was part of his motivation.

"The little push I gave him helped him," Iverson said. "I am going to be pushing him a little more."

Skinner won't mind.

"It's going to get me better," he said. "I don't mind getting better."

Wesleyan 63, WD Mohammed 24

Wesleyan never trailed in its 63-24 rout of WD Mohammed in the Region 7-A tournament, but it wasn't until the second half that the Wolves really played well.

The win secures a state playoff berth for the Wolves, who play St. Francis on Friday in the 7-A tournament at Eagle's Landing Christian Academy.

Nearly two weeks had passed since the Wolves played their last game and the rust manifested in turnovers. Wesleyan led 33-19 at the half in spite of nine turnovers.

"You have to factor in that this is an elimination game," Wesleyan head coach Skip Matherly said. "WD played well. That wasn't a shocker."

Wesleyan just played better. Especially in the second half. The Wolves turned up the defensive pressure, allowing just five points over the last 24 minutes and shutting the Caliphs out in the fourth quarter.

"We asserted our will a little," Matherly said. "The big thing was we quit turning the ball over."

Nine different Wolves scored in the win with three reached double figures. Andrew Frerking led all scorers with 15, while Carter Brantley and Wes Caver added 10 each. Leading scorer Griffin Schamp, slowed by illness, did not start, but scored six points.

"He played better that I thought," said Matherly, who put Schamp at 75 percent and said he plans to rest him until the state playoffs begin.

Not that scoring will be a worry for the Wolves, who spread the ball around.

"We are very balanced. We have a lot of kids that can score the ball," Matherly said. "When we are playing well, we defend well, rebound well and share the ball."

All things they did Wednesday, pulling down 36 rebounds and dishing out 15 assists as a team. But the biggest thing the Wolves did was win, keeping their season alive.

"This is a huge win," Matherly said. "We are guaranteed three more."