DOTHAN, Ala. -- Russell County fought back in the second half against top-ranked Faith Academy, but the Warriors eventually fell 71-51 in a Class 5A South Regional semifinal Wednesday.
Faith (28-2), which has won 23 straight, shook off an early 14-7 deficit and dominated the rest of the first half. Braszuan Barnes hit a pair of 3-pointers and the Rams scored the first 11 points of the second quarter to open a 28-19 lead.
James Davis helped Faith add to its advantage in a key sequence midway through the period. Davis drilled a 3-pointer from the left wing, then got a steal on the other end and took it coast-to-coast for a slam dunk that also drew a foul. His three-point play made it 34-21 Faith with 3:10 left in the half. The Rams took a 36-24 lead into halftime.
The outcome didn't appear in doubt, but Russell County didn't get the memo. The Warriors (13-14) pushed the pace at every opportunity to start the second half -- and got themselves back in the game.
Cortez Gunn hit a free quarter, got a steal and teammate Marshel Lyons scored on a fastbreak. Gunn hit another foul shot before Byron Johnson scored on a baseline jumper and then on a putback that cut the margin to 36-32 with 5:25 left in the third quarter. The Warriors kept coming. Jaylin Rutherford hit a basket and made two free throws to tie the game 36-all with 3:35 remaining in the quarter.
"The kids never gave up," Russell County coach Sam Moates said. "They played real hard and fought to get back."
But just as quickly, Faith found its composure -- and its offense. Barnes stopped the bleeding with a clutch 3-pointer from the left baseline for Faith's first points of the second half.
"That really kind of gave us a boost," Barnes said.
The Rams rebuilt the lead with a 9-0 run as Shawntell Benard ended the spurt with a transition basket and two free throws.
Faith led 48-39 after three quarters, then pulled away with a 23-12 edge in the final eight minutes.
"The main thing with them is if we didn't make it a half-court game, we had a chance," Moates said. "Their half-court defense is really, really good -- probably the best defensive team in the state. When we weren't able to transition, it worked to their benefit."
Barnes led the Rams with 22 points, but he had a lot of help. Benard added 17 points, Davis had 14 and Joshua Hill scored 13 points to go with 12 rebounds.
Faith players said they simply had a letdown after building a big lead in the first half.
"We came out like we already had the game won," Barnes said. "We didn't get back on defense. It was a mental thing."
It was a lesson that Faith coach John Price hopes his players remember.
"We've got to be a little more mature when we have a lead," Price said. "There's never such a thing as a safe lead when you're in the playoffs. We've got to maintain our focus a little stronger to start the game and coming out after halftime. We've got to do a better job on Friday."
That's when the Rams will play Eufaula at 3 p.m. with a berth in the state tournament on the line. Faith defeated Eufaula in the regional final last year.
"Total repeat," Price said. "If you don't defend their shooters and penetrators, they're a very dangerous offensive team."
Lyons led Russell County with 16 points. Johnson and Rutherford each scored nine for the Warriors.
Early foul trouble to several key players, including leading scorer Carl Johnson, made an uphill climb even more challenging. Johnson played less than 11 minutes and finished with four points after averaging 20 points per game.
"We came back, played hard as a team," Lyons said. "We knocked down a couple shots, played good defense. It just wasn't enough tonight."
Russell County ended its season 13-14. For a week, the Warriors worked to avenge last year's loss to Faith in the region semifinals.
"It feels pretty bad," Johnson said. "We put in work all week, said we were going to beat Faith, practiced for it, then we just came up short."
Wednesday at Dothan Civic CenterRussell Co. 19 5 15 12--51
Faith 17 19 12 23--71
Russell County (51)
Jaylin Rutherford 9, Cortez Gunn 4, Devonta Lindsey 1, Marshall Lyons 16, Dontavious Hill 2, Carl Johnson 4, Jaekwon Parker 6, Byron Johnson 9.
Faith Academy (71)
James Davis 14, Braszuan Barnes 22, Shantell Bernard 17, Williams 2, Joshua Hill 13, Bien Harbin 3.
Records: Russell County 13-14, Faith Academy 28-2. Next: Russell County, season over. Faith Academy, vs. Eufaula at Dothan, Friday, 3 p.m.