APEX — No matter the record of the visiting team to Apex’s gymnasium, nicknamed the “Cougar Den,” it’s still a tough place to play.
It held true on Friday, when Apex held off Tri-9 Conference rival Green Hope, previously undefeated and ranked 4th in The News & Observer area poll, to win 50-48.
The Cougars have now won 17 of their last 19 home games dating back to the beginning of last season, and this year’s win came just in time.
After Apex (4-4, 3-1) dropped three close road games, getting the upper-hand was a nice change.
“For us to play as hard as we did for 31 minutes and to not pull it out would’ve been heartbreaking,” Apex coach David Neal said. “Tonight we were just more together, and it was a great atmosphere... a ton of our former players were home since it’s the last home game before Christmas.”
The home court advantage took awhile to warm up, however.
Apex had just two points with a little more than a minute left in the first quarter, but 3-pointers from senior Scott Greeson and freshman Ian Boyd gave the team new life. The No. 4 Falcons (6-1, 2-1) led 13-8 after the first period, but the two sides were tied at 26 going into halftime.
The Cougars began to catch fire towards the end of the second quarter, and it extended into the third. At one point Apex had made 10-of-12 shots to build an eight-point lead, the largest for either side.
“I thought we played together,” Neal said. “The last game we played we only had two guys with assists, so I really emphasized sharing the ball.”
In the fourth quarter, a late 3-pointer from junior T.J. Evans put Apex up 50-44, but Green Hope made the last minute count.
Grant Rasmussen’s driving layup with 49.8 seconds left cut the lead to four. After a Green Hope timeout, Apex inbounded the ball but was called for traveling.
The Falcons scored again, this time with David Robertson’s strong take into the lane with 34.5 seconds left to make the deficit two points.
Green Hope forced a timeout and a jump ball on the next two inbounds plays, but it was still Apex’s possession with 29.5 seconds left.
“We caught the ball thinking they were going to foul us, and they didn’t foul us,” Neal said.
Apex’s fourth inbounds try in less than 20 seconds was tipped out of bounds. At last, the Cougars got the ball in play to force Green Hope to foul, but Apex missed the front end of two 1-and-1s.
Green Hope missed a 3-pointer after the first Apex miss. After the second miss, Apex’s Malik Williams tipped away a kick-out pass to an open shooter to preserve the Apex win.
“It’s a tough atmosphere,” said Green Hope coach John Green. “The guys are pretty upset, and they should be – something would be wrong if we went in (the locker room) and they didn’t care.”
Green Hope’s John Mosser finished with 19 points and nine rebounds, both team-highs. UNC-Asheville recruit David Robertson had 13 points while Rasmussen had 10 points.
Evans had 19 points to lead the Cougars, but also pulled down seven boards to tie Boyd for a team-high. Boyd had 15 points himself, while Greeson had nine.
T.J. Wells had a game-high seven assists.
Blake: 919-460-2606 or twitter.com/JMBpreps