LaGrange capped a perfect USA South conference week with an 86-75 win over Maryville on Sunday in Mariotti Gym. The Panthers (9-4, 5-1 USA South) went 3-0 for the week, defeating preseason East Division favorite N.C. Wesleyan on Wednesday, Berea on Saturday, and the preseason East Division pick Scots today.
"Playing back-to-back games in the USA South conference is tough. I look around and I don't see any other conference doing that," said Coach Kendal Wallace. "I don't mind it, it makes our guys play harder, makes them try to focus and think more. So, it is very good to get back-to-back wins today and yesterday, to win the conference championship you have to do that. The most important thing to get done today was get a W.
"We have some momentum and want to keep that going. We had a rough first half but came down to the locker room and made some adjustments. We were able to have a much better second half. The first five minutes of the second half was really positive for us."
LC got another big game off the bench from senior Jamison McCray. McCray led five Panthers in double figures with a game-high 22 points, 15 coming in the first half. Jalen McCallum had 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 blocked shots. Gary Bishop had all 13 of his points in the second half, 11 coming from the free throw line. Julian Cameron and Travis Thompson each had 10 points.
The Panthers shot a season-best 57.4 percent in the game. In the second half alone, LC shot 68.2 percent, to help overcome 21 turnovers in the game. The Panthers had a 43-29 advantage on the boards. They were 26-of-32 from the free throw line, including 21-0f-25 in the second half to seal the win.
The lead changed six times in the first half. Maryville (7-6, 3-3 USA South) led by eight points with 8:23 left in the half. McCray's 3-pointer at the buzzer put the Panthers up 33-31 and they never trailed again. LC scored the first seven points of the second half to open up a 40-31 lead. The Scots cut the lead to five, but McCray's jumper gave LC its first double-digit lead, 57-46 with 11:47 left. The Panthers led by as many as 12 twice, scoring their final seven points from the free throw line.
The game was the final one in Mariotti for Maryville coach Randy Lambert, who is in his 39th and final season coaching the Scots. Lambert was recognized before the game by Wallace and the Panthers.
"He's a father figure to me. He gave me the opportunity when I was a player to come and play for him and taught me how to play the game very well," said Wallace "Later in life, when I was trying to figure out a career path, he gave me a second chance there to learn how to be a good coach.
"Throughout that whole process he has exemplified how to be a great man, how to take care of your family, how to take care of your program, how to treat people with class and respect. It has been a wonderful journey to be able to coach against him and still have our friendship and being colleagues. Not a lot of people get to do that, especially at the Division III level. He's very important to me."
The Panthers will host Greensboro and Averett next Saturday and Sunday in USA South games.