SEALE, Ala. -- The Russell County boys basketball team is living proof of the adage, "It's not how you start that matters most, it's how you finish."
The Warriors -- who started the season 3-10 with just two returnees off last year's team -- defeated Rehobeth, 76-60, in the semifinals of the Class 5A Area 4 Tournament to earn their eighth win in their last 10 contests and advance to Monday's Area Tournament championship game against Eufaula (15-10). Tipoff for that game is set for 7 p.m.
"We've been playing pretty decent lately," said Russell County coach Sam Moates. "We played well tonight in spurts. It turned into a free-throw contest at times and that's not what we want, but we played well enough at the other times to get a win."
Russell County (11-12) came out of the gates fast, taking a 15-2 lead in the first five minutes and holding a 23-10 after the opening eight minutes. The offensive attack was a balanced one for the Warriors, as four different players had four points apiece and another had three.
"We like to get out and run and get transition layups," said Moates. "We got a lot of them early, but we weren't able to get as many as we like as the game went along."
The Rebels cut Russell County's lead to eight points in the second quarter -- at 36-28 with 1:05 to go before halftime -- but a pair of late 3-pointers by Jaekwon Parker and Artavious Parker sent the Warriors into the locker room with a 42-31 advantage. The lead came despite the fact that the Warriors made just three of their 11 free-throw attempts and had four players get whistled for two fouls apiece in the first half.
Trey Lockhart had nine points to lead Russell County, with Artavious and Jaekwon Parker pitching in seven apiece. Jordan Brown had a game-high 12 and Josh Thompson scored 11 in the first two periods to try and keep Rehobeth close.
Russell County stretched its lead to as much as 18 points in the third quarter -- at 53-35 following a pair of free throws by Carl Johnson -- before the Rebels (13-15) made a push to get back into the game. Using a big effort from Thompson -- who is listed at 6-foot-3 and 273 pounds -- Rehobeth closed to within 56-49 on a layup by Lamarrius Mark with 48 seconds to go in the period.
The Rebels were still only down 58-49 going into the fourth quarter, but Russell County essentially ended the doubt as to the outcome by scoring the first six points of the period to stretch its lead back out to 64-49 and the Warriors cruised from there.
"Right there in the third quarter, they made a run and it started affecting our play," said Moates. "But I think we did a pretty good job of regaining our composure and extending our lead back out."
Trey Lockhart paced a balanced Russell County offense with 17 points, followed by Artavious Parker's 14. Eight different Warriors scored at least six points in the victory.
"We have a lot of depth," said Moates. "We have kids who need to get playing time who don't. Foul trouble doesn't affect us as much as it does other teams."
Thompson finished with a game-high 33 points and Brown pitched in 12 for Rehobeth, which went 28-for-37 (75.7 percent) at the line compared to Russell County's 15-of-37 (40.5 percent).
Friday at Russell County
Rehobeth 10 21 18 11--60
Russell County 23 19 16 18--76
Fields 1, Mixon 1, Vickery 3, Lovett 4, Jordan Brown 12, Mack 6, Josh Thompson 33. Totals 16 28-37 60.
Russell County (76)
Rutherford 6, Trey Lockhart 17, Artavious Parker 14, Lyons 8, C. Johnson 8, J. Parker 7, Ivey 6, Hill 1, Horace 7, B. Johnson 2. Totals 29 15-37 76.
Records: Rehobeth 13-15, Russell County 11-12; Next: Russell County vs. Eufaula (15-10) (Area Tournament Finals) at Russell County Monday 7 p.m. (ET).