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South Shore’s Jalen Lewis blocks a shot against Goode STEM Academy.

By: Eric Van Dril   |   Feb. 3, 2017

South Shore played its 26th game of the season on Thursday evening — an amount that is both higher than all but one team (Catalyst-Maria) in the Public League and very beneficial.

Repetition has helped the Tars forge togetherness. It’s also put them in many different situations, including the one they experienced in the first quarter of their 67-58 victory over Goode STEM Academy in group play of the Blue-South tournament.

The Knights jumped out to a 10-0 lead over South Shore on Thursday, Feb. 2.

Many teams might panic when faced with a similar scenario. The Tars didn’t, however.

They’d gotten off to slow starts like that before, and they knew how to fight back.

“We were always taught not to get down on each other — always uplift each other,” senior guard DeShawn Thomas said.

“We always (come back),” South Shore senior forward Jalen Lewis added. “We just work harder and get everything going on defense. Our defense is always going to come (through). … We just try to stay in the game after we go down a lot.”

South Shore (17-9) managed to do that.

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Junior guard Travon Davis scored the Tars’ first field goal off of a steal, and then junior center Anthony Diji converted in close. Lewis followed with a bucket in the paint.

South Shore trailed 14-9 at the end of the first quarter. The Tars were behind, but they had weathered a dangerously-slow start.

And then Phillip Morris caught fire.

Morris, a junior, scored the first points of the second quarter by burying a 3-pointer from the corner. The reserve guard then hit three field goals in the second quarter.

Morris’s nine-point second quarter proved to be very important.

“(Morris) kept us in the game,” South Shore coach Chris Presswood said. “The guys know when Phil’s knocking down his shots, playing the way he played tonight, we’re going to win.”

The way Morris (17 points) shot the ball in the second quarter pumped South Shore full of energy.

“I’m really proud of him,” said Thomas, who finished with 13 points, four rebounds and three steals. “We were in a slump. When he got in, he started to rise things up. Once he said, ‘Let’s go,’ everybody hopped on the train and we took it to the W.”

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The Tars led 28-26 at halftime. They began the third quarter with a 15-4 run that included multiple baskets by Lewis, Thomas and South Shore senior guard Tavis Jones.

The Tars led 45-35 entering the fourth.

Goode cut their lead to 50-44 with 5:37 remaining, but that’s when Thomas stepped up.

The team’s defensive leader stole the ball in the Knights’ backcourt on two-straight possessions. Thomas scored an uncontested lay-up on the first steal. He found Morris after he stole the ball a second time, and Morris got to the free-throw line.

Morris split his free throws to put South Shore back ahead by nine.

“We had a scouting report on who makes the best decisions,” Thomas said, when asked what he saw on his steals. “On the scouting report, it told us who can pass with ball pressure and who can’t. I pressured the kids that couldn’t pass with ball pressure and forced the turnovers.”

Thomas’s crucial steals instantly turned the game’s momentum.

Seeing Thomas come through in that fashion wasn’t a surprise to his teammates.

“He does that a lot. Every single game,” Morris said. “He’s the defensive player on our team. … Once he got those two clutch steals, I was just excited and I knew we were going to get that W.”

South Shore looked likely to win, at that point in the game, but Goode kept fighting. The Knights pulled within 55-51 with 3:39 remaining on a putback by senior forward Jamari Johnson (nine points, nine rebounds).

Thomas made it 57-51 when he drove to the basket and scored, however. And then Lewis, a lanky 6-foot-4 forward, ended Goode’s comeback attempt.

Lewis (12 points, seven rebounds) did so with a pair of putbacks off of offensive rebounds. The first made it 59-51. The second was an old-fashioned 3-point play that put South Shore ahead 62-54 with 1:40 left.

“I could tell (Goode’s forwards) were getting frustrated, so I was trying to stay in their head and keep working,” Lewis said, of his key rebounds. “You probably can’t tell, but I can jump pretty high. I kind of catch people off guard a lot. Doing that, I just try to stay focused and get boards as quick as I can.”

Thomas is South Shore’s defensive leader, but Lewis also tends to inspire his teammates with how hard he works on the interior against players who are often both taller and heavier than him.

“I’ve got so much love for Jalen,” Morris said. “Every time he plays, he always plays with intensity. He’s always got energy. Jalen actually hypes me up. … He makes me want to play (hard). I look up to Jalen a lot.”

Pool play of the Blue-South tournament will wrap up on Tuesday, Feb. 7.

Goode, which was led in scoring by junior forward Devon Sterling (19 points, 11 rebounds) and junior guard Darius Johnson (17 points) against the Tars, is scheduled to host EPIC on Tuesday.

South Shore, meanwhile, will travel to Corliss on Tuesday evening. It is now 2-0 in pool play. A win over the Trojans would send the Tars to the Blue-South tournament’s championship game.

South Shore hasn’t talked a lot about winning the Blue-South tournament, according to Morris. The Tars are very much focused on going game-by-game.

But Thomas added that winning the Blue-South tournament in the final weeks of his senior season would be an important step in leaving his mark at the new South Shore, which opened in 2011. He’s already done so as the quarterback of the South Shore football team that won a conference title and reached the state playoffs.

Thomas hopes he and his teammates can do the same thing on the court later this month.

“I want to be one of the first seniors,” Thomas said, “to actually be able to say we won something — to be able to leave a legacy for the school.”