Maurice Dixon

@WriturRece |

ATLANTA – Auburn commit Chuma Okeke collected 36 points (23 in the second half) and 20 rebounds to help Westlake (GA) overcome a 10-point halftime deficit and defeat shorthanded Pebblebrook (GA) 85-76 at home in front of a sold-out crowd January 31 for the outright lead in the region.

“I didn’t want to lose,” Okeke said. “I wanted to come out first in the region. We just had to win this game. We couldn’t lose. We just got to keep getting better from here.”

With Alabama commit Collin Sexton sidelined due to a concussion, the Falcons, who won their previous six games, still played an excellent brand of basketball. Drue Drinnon and Elias Harden both scored 20 points and Dwight Murray and Mervin James added 14 apiece.

But Pebblebrook needed its star late because the Lions (15-9) had one more scoring run in them, a decisive 24-5 run.

With just under six minutes left in the game, James converted a layup for a 71-61 score. On the other end, Okeke responded with a three-point play and Westlake coach Darron Rogers called a full-court trap which shifted the momentum.

Chase Hunter (10 points) really ignited things and got the crowd back in the game when he turned a steal into a one-handed slam, reducing the margin to five points.

“Chase always gets us hyped up,” Okeke said. “Every time he dunks it brings momentum to the team and the whole crowd. It really gives us momentum to get back into the game if we are down. It makes it a little easier to come back.”

Then UCF commit Daniel Lewis (18 points) inbounded the ball to Okeke for a two-handed slam to shrink the margin even more.

After another Falcons’ empty possession, James Lewis (12 points) converted a layin while being fouled for a 71-70 score with 4:19 left. Drinnon made a foul shot to interrupt the Lions’ 9-0 surge but with 3:55 to go Okeke answered with a layin for a 72-72 tie. Then 80 seconds later, Okeke sunk a free throw to give Westlake the lead for good.

“Playing through Chuma is the smartest play to make and we didn’t make a lot of those in the first half,” Rogers said. “In the second half not only did Chuma make good plays but Jamie found himself and Danny hit some key threes.”

The Lions scored the next eight points to widen the margin en route to eventually capturing a sweep against Pebblebrook this season.

“We had a defense we weren’t going to show until after halftime,” Rogers said. “We had planned that for Collin but he was out and it worked just as good against Drue. Drue was like Collin tonight, getting to the hole and causing a lot of trouble inside but once we put a little pressure on him out top and trapped him, he turned it over a few times.”

In the first half, the Falcons (16-6) played like they were used to playing without Sexton. They drilled seven 3-pointers in the first two quarters, thanks to three each from Murray and Harden in that time span.

“They came out hot as fish grease,” Rogers said. “They weren’t missing shots. We didn’t particularly show a bona-fide effort on defense either but they had a real good screen game with their bigs which got Drue open a lot.”

Drinnon, who also had at least six assists, really shined in the second quarter, scoring 12 points in the frame to help Pebblebrook enter the locker room ahead 47-37.

“Their team stepped up and played well in lieu of not having Collin,” Rogers said. “Drue is one of the better guards in the state along with No. 4 [Harden.] No. 15 [Jared Jones] is just as good inside. Zero [Dwight Murray] is a starter from last year so they still had four Division-I players on the court.”

Westlake used the first five minutes of the third to turn its double-digit deficit into a brief 55-54 edge, thanks to an 11-0 run which was capped on a nice reverse layup by Daniel Lewis.