Cary 60 New Hanover 53 (boys)
In a preview of what could set up to be a late season playoff matchup, Cary used its veteran experience down the stretch to hand New Hanover a 60-53 defeat inside Trask Coliseum on Tuesday night.
The seesaw battle saw 12 lead changes and five ties before the Imps went on an 8-2 spurt over the final three minutes of the third quarter to gain enough breathing room to secure the result.
“I told the kids this morning during practice that this could be a third or fourth round game come state tournament time,” said New Hanover Coach Kirk Angel. “Our standard every year is to go to a regional. It doesn’t happen all the time, but that’s our goal. Cary is a regional caliber team and that’s what we could see come February.”
Donte Tatum scored a team-high 20 points, while Cory Gensler added 19 points and seven rebounds for Cary, who improved to 12-0 on the year as the No. 9 ranked team in the state, according to Maxpreps.com.
Cary went on a 9-0 run off the opening tip before the Wildcats responded with 10 of the games next 12 points to pull within one. Blake Smith hit back-to-back shots from behind the arc during the stretch before Tatum drove the lane for two points and a 13-10 lead.
Following a baseline floater from Ramello Williams, Smith hit his third trey of the frame to put New Hanover in front, but an inside move by Jay Hicks and three-ball by Tatum made it 18-15, Imps to close an entertaining eight minutes of basketball.
“We go down by nine and I’m thinking this could get bad in a hurry,” Angel added. “We start three 15-year-olds and my son is 10. So when I go home and see him every day they are only five years older than him. For them to respond the way they did, we showed a lot of fight.”
The back-and-forth play continued into the second stanza as Smith continued to heat up with a head fake and two point jump shot followed by another three-ball. A steal by Malique Jacobs and dish to Williams for a transition layup capped a 7-0 push before Kyle Gensler ended a four-minute scoring drought with a long-range shot.
Cary held a 30-29 advantage at the break, but Smith responded with three-pointers on the first two possessions of the second half to put New Hanover in front 35-32. Smith went 7 of 10 from three-point land and finished with a game-high 25 points, but the Imps did a stellar job defending the sharpshooter over the final 12 minutes of the game.
“Number 11 [Darion Burnett] is a super athlete and he did a great job with zero help against Blake,” Angel said. “We did some great things to adjust, but couldn’t get and one’s and finish with our free throws. They’ve been shooting free throws their whole life and I tell them all the time to step up with confidence and knock it down.”
Cary went 13 of 17 from the free throw line and hit big foul shots down the stretch to clinch a spot in Wednesday’s tournament finals. The Imps faces Summerville, South Carolina in the championship at 7:30 p.m. inside Trask Coliseum.
Williams, Jacobs and Acchaes Fields finished with eight points apiece for New Hanover, who fell to 9-3 overall. Williams also pulled down eight rebounds. The Wildcats face Roger Bacon in the third place consolation game at 4:30p.m. inside Trask Coliseum.
“The message now is to finish tomorrow,” Angel said. “We’re going to practice tomorrow and with a young team the test is going to be how to we respond. We’re going to be playing another really good team and we need to get this win for seeding purposes for playoffs.”
Day three schedule
Finals: Cary vs. Summerville (boys) at 7:30 p.m.
Finals: Hoggard vs. New Hanover (girls) at 6 p.m.
Third-place game: New Hanover vs. Roger Bacon (boys) at 4:30 p.m.
Ashley vs. T.W. Andrews (girls) at 3 p.m.
T.C. Williams vs. Hoggard (boys) at 1:30 p.m.
Laney vs. Conway (girls) at 1:30 p.m.
Laney vs. Ashley (boys) at 12 p.m.
Socastee vs. Florence (girls) at 1:30 p.m.