Southwestern cruises by Mervo, into final No. 1 team at 24-0 after Gray leads 73-58 victory

Class 4A/Boys basketball

March 06, 1997|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

Moments after No. 1 Southwestern had beaten visiting Mervo, 73-58, yesterday for its 24th game without a loss, someone tapped assistant coach Mike Marks on the shoulder and mentioned the great game turned in by Robert Gray.

" 'bout time," Marks said. " 'bout time."

Gray finished with 23 points -- including two three-pointers -- 12 rebounds, four blocks, four steals and three assists as the Sabers (24-0) earned the right to play No. 3 Lake Clifton (19-4), a 76-71 winner over Northern last night, in Friday's Class 4A North Region championship game.

Coach Terry Leverett said it was Gray's second consecutive game being the catalyst, and "an excellent confidence-booster after playing Lake." Leverett was referring to last week's City championship victory over Lake Clifton, when Gray fouled out early in the final period.

"I like his aggressiveness on defense, but he sometimes gets into trouble," Leverett said. "Some people want him to score 30 points a game, and he could do that. But we've got too many decent players, and so there's not that many shots to go around. His role is to have double figures in rebounds, do the stuff we need him to inside. He did a lot of that today."

Southwestern's Cornelius McMurray, the Sabers' leading scorer, turned in his usually brilliant effort, with 26 points that included four three-pointers and 6-for-7 free-throw shooting.

But McMurray wasn't the factor that Gray was in the decisive third period. In fact, McMurray was scoreless in that period while Gray contributed eight points, grabbed five rebounds, had three steals, a block and an assist.

"I've had games where I've been in foul trouble, but my coaches have told me to stop swinging and just play defense and my offense would come to me," said Gray. "I focused on doing that today, and ended up having one of my best games of the season. I was in a zone."

The Gray zone was the decisive third period, when the 6-foot-4 center engineered a 9-0 run that turned a 41-35 lead into a 15-point cushion.

Jerome Banks (four points, eight rebounds) started things with a couple of free throws, which Gray followed up with a steal and layup. Gray then blocked a shot and lobbed a court-length pass to Earl Carr for another basket before making a three-pointer to end the run.

"We thought it was important to come out real strong in the third period," said Gray. "Coach says that if we win the first quarter and the third quarter, that's going to make it easier to win the game."

And for Mervo, which trailed by five entering the second period, the damage was too severe to overcome.

"We didn't come out with as much intensity as they did in the second half, and that hurt us. They never really stopped us, but we were sluggish. I think if it wasn't for that, the game would have been much closer," said Mervo's sophomore guard Marcus Hatten, who had a game-high 30 points and shot 8-for-10 at the free-throw line. "No. 21 [Gray] was a vital point to their offense. If it wasn't for him . he's a good player, that's all I can say."

Hugh Brown contributed 11 points and grabbed six rebounds for the 12-12 Mustangs, who lost, 66-40, in their previous meeting with the Sabers.

Gray was coming off a similar effort against No. 17 Douglass, a game during which the Sabers trailed by as many as 10 points early on.

"Gray was the catalyst in our last game against Douglass, too, getting some critical steals, crucial points when we needed them. I think he's a kid who understands his role on the team real well," Leverett said. "That's what he does mostly, and he's been generally unselfish and consistent all year long."

Pub Date: 3/06/97

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