It belonged to senior guard Xavier Freeman, who took less than three minutes away from his duties directing the Rebel offense to become a shooting star.
Freeman, who is known as ‘X’ in the Rebel camp, unloaded not one, not two but four straight 3-pointers to break a 35-35 tie and send the Rebels to a 69-52 victory over Thomas Johnson on Friday.
“I’ve never had four straight 3s in a real game like that,” Freeman said. “My job is to get everyone else involved. I’m not worried about scoring, but I saw we needed to take control.”
Freeman ended with 19 points and dished out seven assists as South (1-1) rebounded from Wednesday’s opening-night loss at Urbana.
Devon King popped in 18 points with nine rebounds and Michael Hill scored 11 points for the Rebels, who fought off a third-quarter charge by Thomas Johnson (1-1), thanks to Freeman.
With a slim 29-27 halftime lead, capped by TJ scoring the last five points of a foul-plagued first half, the Patriots tied the game at 31-all on a bucket by Tenoi Roper and took a 33-31 lead with 5:30 left on a basket by Kendall Pitts.
After King tied the game at 35, the stage was set for Freeman.
He hit three straight and South had a 44-35 lead with two minutes left in the quarter. TJ called a timeout to readjust its defense, which was more worried about stopping King.
Out of the timeout, Freeman promptly hit an NBA-range 3 and followed it with a two-pointer on a baseline shot after a TJ turnover for a 49-35 lead.
“(X) has the green light to shoot the ball,” South coach Kevin Naylor said. “We want him to be a (Rajon) Rondo-type guard, handle the pressure.”
TJ used a 6-0 run to cut the lead to 12 at 62-50 with 3:49 remaining.
King, Freeman and Hill each were saddled with two personal fouls early in the second quarter when Naylor, thin on experience on the bench to start the season, found some players who helped keep the Rebels afloat.
Drequan Johnson, Kevin Henson and Devon Redmon gave the Rebels good minutes while eating up the clock with South maintaining a lead. Johnson finished with six points.
“The bench players have worked hard in practice and they know we are searching for players and they have an opportunity,” Naylor said.
The Rebels’ defense forced TJ into 26 turnovers, but South also was sloppy with the ball, guilty of 24 turnovers following a 27-turnover performance against Urbana.
“We really need to take control with the ball,” Naylor said.
The sloppy first half, in which South never lost the lead, had 19 personal fouls and 30 turnovers — a total of 49 whistles stopping the clock.
After shooting less than 30 percent against Urbana, South came out and hit 26 of 45 for 58 percent against TJ. Freeman made 6 of 7 and King 8 of 13.