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Eagles take step forward despite loss to EC

By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
David McCollum did not become the head coach of the W.S. Neal Blue Eagles basketball team to get moral victories.
While the Blue Eagles opened the Escambia County Tournament Thursday with a 73-59 loss to the host Blue Devils, McCollum admitted his team may have taken some big steps forward.
W.S. Neal, which allowed a season high but also scored a season high, was able to hang close largely due to the play of juniors Cecil Thomas and Benjamin McMillan. Thomas fired in a career high 24 points, while McMillan added a dozen.
Down 11-5 early on, McMillan and Thomas gave W.S. Neal one of its best sparks of the season.
McMillan nailed a shot from inside the lane, connected on a short jumper and nailed a three-pointer that tied the game at 15-15. Meanwhile Thomas hit three charity tosses and nailed a three-pointer late in the frame that gave W.S. Neal an 18-15 lead.
Another three-pointer by McMillan early in the second quarter extended the Blue Eagles' lead to a game high margin of 21-15.
Escambia County also had its perimeter threats, namely Jeremy McCants and Quartez James.
McCants and James, who hit combined for five three-pointers in the first half and seven for the game, nailed three within a two-minute stretch that put the Blue Devils back in front, this time to stay.
That was part of a 25-4 run by Escambia County that helped put the Blue Devils up 40-27 at halftime.
The home team seemed to pretty much have the game in the bag when a steal and layup by Chris Andrews knocked Escambia County's lead up to a game high bulge of 50-33 halfway through the third quarter.
Instead of calling it a night, W.S. Neal battled back.
Within three minutes a hoop by McMillan on a drive to basket capped off an 11-2 run that cut Escambia County's lead to single digits at 52-44.
The Blue Eagles edged a little closer, as they then got within seven points on three occasions in the fourth quarter, the last on a fastbreak bucket by Thomas that made it 66-59 with four minutes left. Those turned out to be W.S. Neal's last points of the night.
At Escambia County
Escambia Co. 15 25 17 16 – 73
W.S. Neal 18 9 19 13 – 59
ESCAMBIA COUNTY (2FG-3FG-FT-TP) McCants 63-2-23; James 5-4-1-23; Arnold 4-0-1-9; Andrews 3-0-0-6; J. Lewis 1-0-3-5; Hartley 2-0-0-4; W. Lewis 1-0-0-2 (Totals: 22-7-8-73)
W.S. NEAL (2FG-3FG-FT-TP) Thomas 6-2-6-24; McMillan 3-2-0-12; Williamson 3-0-0-6; Ron. Travis 1-1-0-5; Cooper 2-0-0-4; T. Sanders 2-0-0-4; R. Sanders 1-0-0-2; Hester 1-0-0-2 (Totals: 19-5-6-59)