RALEIGH — Guards Matt Jones of DeSoto (Texas) High and Anthony Barber of Hampton (Va.) High, had special motivation as they took the floor Thursday for their first games in the Holiday Invitational.
Jones and Barber, two of the top-ranked senior basketball players in the nation, were playing in front of their future college coaches and also giving Triangle fans a sneak preview of things to come.
The 6-foot-4 Jones played first as Duke associate head coach Chris Collins watched from a chair in a line of college coaches under the basket at Broughtons Holliday Gymnasium. He actually was playing in front of three coaches who recruited him Collins, N.C. States Mark Gottfried and North Carolinas Roy Williams all among a large group of coaches to take in the abundance of college-caliber talent on hand for the tournament.
Jones and Barber both came away winners, setting up a head-to-head matchup in the semifinals of the Summit Hospitality bracket at 7:20 p.m. Friday.
Jones wanted to impress his future coach, as well as the other Triangle coaches who had shown an interest in him.
It felt great being recruited by them to be able to show them how much I had improved as a teammate and as a player individually, Jones said after scoring 17 points to help DeSoto stop Kinston 57-50.
Human nature, it did make it difficult (to not try too hard). I wanted to definitely show them I can play and can step in next year and contribute. But I promised my teammates I would play team ball. And I believe in them so that is what I did.
When the game started, I was just playing basketball.
DeSoto was up by just three points, 48-45, with 1 minute, 30 seconds to play against Kinston, the defending N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 2A champion. The ball was in Jones hands, and he drew a foul and went to the line and sank a pair of free throws to give the Eagles some breathing room.
Jones, rated the No. 36 player in the nation by ESPN.com, hit just four of 12 shots from the floor (1-for-3 from 3-point range), but he was 8-for-8 from the free-throw line and played sticky defense on the perimeter.
I didnt have a perfect game, he said. Overall, I felt like I did pretty good. I was competitive and finished strong at the basket. I definitely felt good about how I played and I have another chance tomorrow so I get to go out and prove myself again.
Barber played in the days final game, with Gottfried and several current Wolfpack players looking on.
Barber, a super-quick, explosive point guard who is rated the No. 14 player in the nation, scored 26 points, including six in overtime, as Hampton edged Waxhaw Cutherbertson 61-59.
He penetrated for shots and dish-offs and hit outside shots. At one point, Barber drove the lane and hit the floor hard after a foul at the feet of Gottfried, seated behind the basket.
Ive played in front of them before, Barber said of playing in front of a lot of N.C. State fans. It was cool. I was just playing my game.
Barber said he got a text from N.C. States Rodney Purvis, telling he would be at Holliday Gym.
We talk a lot, Barber said. That was cool.
But when it came time to play, Barber was ready. And not focusing on the crowd.
Every game is for us to play and not to worry about the fans, he said. I just to try and play my game and to win.
On the matchup with Jones, Barber knew that the Crabbers (8-0) would have to focus on the shooter.
I think we need to keep him from hitting 3s, Barber said. If we can slow him down, we have a good chance to win.
Another player with Triangle ties, forward Isaac Copeland of Miller School of Charlottesville, Va., took a similar approach to the highly charged atmosphere.
Copeland, a 6-8 junior from Raleigh who played at Ravenscroft last season, is being recruited by most ACC schools and said he has scholarship offers from N.C. State, Boston College and Virginia. He also said North Carolina and Duke have shown interest in him. Copeland has yet to commit.
Copeland scored 19 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in a 59-50 loss to High Point Christian in a first-round game in the Shavlik Randolph bracket.
Having coaches like that here is great, Copeland said. Its been pretty much like that all season, so I am getting used to it. Its definitely motivation coming into the game.
Its pretty hard [to block it out]. But after a few minutes, it goes out the window and you just play basketball.
In other action Thursday, Greensboro Dudley won the championship of the 4-team bracket with a 73-71 victory over Garner.
Dudley (7-4) built a 10-point lead in the second half, but had to hold off the scrappy Trojans (8-2), who tied the score at 64-64 with 1:16 left in the game. Dudley hit 7-of-7 free throws from that point on to win it.
We made a heck of a comeback in the second half, Garner coach Eddie Gray said. We just gave up too many easy second-chance baskets. I think if we had gotten the lead, [Dudley] may have gotten a little different mindset. They have an outstanding basketball team.
Indiana signee Noah Vonleh, a 6-foot-9 forward who is rated the No. 8 player in the nation by ESPN.com, scored 13 points as New Hampton (N.H.) topped Wilson Greenfield School 69-50.
In other games, Holly Springs edged Person 69-67 behind 17 points from Craig McDaniel and Leesville Road rolled past Goldsboro 61-46 as Brandon Staves had 16 points.