AUGUSTA — With tournament berths on the line, the rivalry between the Erskine and Cony boys basketball teams took on added meaning Thursday night.

Throw in a lively band, a raucous Cony cheering section and a strong contingent of fans from both schools and the pre-tournament playoff atmosphere was complete.

In the end, Cony’s pressure was too much for Erskine, which hung close for three quarters. The Rams pulled away for a 65-48 win that secured them a tournament spot in Class A North in the regular-season finale for both teams.

Cony (7-11) will likely finish in the 10th and final spot while Erskine closes at 4-14.

The visiting Eagles entered the game in the 11th position in the Class A North standings and had an outside shot of reaching the tournament with a win over the Rams. They played that way, too, leading 30-28 at the half and tied 43-all early in the fourth quarter. But the Eagles couldn’t overcome 32 turnovers forced by Cony’s relentless full-court pressure.

“We put in a great effort tonight,” Erskine coach Tim Bonsant said. “There was about a four-minute stretch late in the third and early in the fourth where we just turned it over too much. It was a playoff atmosphere tonight, 1,200 people or so.”

The Rams played without leading scorer T.J. Cusick, who sprained his ankle in the last game. Cusick averages about 15 points a game and had scored over 22 points in three of his last six games. Fellow senior Carter Cleaves helped take up the slack with 17 points, including four 3-pointers.

“I had the same mindset that I always do,” Cleaves said. “I was going to take the shots I take, make the passes and basically play defense the way I play defense. Everything just came together.”

The Eagles tied the game at 43 early in the fourth quarter on a layup from Matt Clary. Cleaves answered with a 3 from the right corner that gave the Rams the lead for good. He scored five points two minutes later on a steal and layup and a another 3 — his fourth of the game — to make it 53-47. The 6-foot-1 forward finished the quarter with 11 points. The Rams closed the game on a 12-0 run.

“They played really well,” Cony coach T.J. Maines said of Erskine. “They were pretty composed even though there was pressure. I thought our guys played really well without our leading scorer.”

Nijual Davis added 11 points for Cony while guards Matt Murray and Jordan Roddy each scored 10. Andrew Browne paced the Eagles with 11 points, Caleb Barden scored 10 and Clary nine.

The Eagles fell behind 21-11 in the second quarter when Cleaves sandwiched 3-point shots around Murray’s foul-line jumper and a put-back from Davis. Erskine got back into it in a hurry, though. Browne drilled a pair of 3s from the left side around a 3 from Trevor Hubbard to cut the lead to one. The teams traded baskets to the half with the Eagles taking a 30-28 lead on Hubbard’s short jumper at the buzzer.

“If you had told me last summer that these guys would be shooting for a playoff spot in the 18th game of the year, I don’t think many people would have believed in this team,” Bonsant said. “We really improved as the year went on.”

If the playoff standings hold up Cony will travel to rival Gardiner for a preliminary-round game next Wednesday.

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