FAYETTEVILLE — Earlier in the week, Bunn coach Gerald Melton hinted that the Kinston Vikings might have the best high school boys’ basketball team in the state, regardless of classification.
The Vikings did little to dispel Melton’s assessment during Thursday’s semifinal matchup against Bunn at the Class 2A East Regional tournament at the Crown Arena.
Kinston broke open a tight contest in the second period and wasn’t threatened the rest of the way en route to a 63-44 victory. The Vikings advanced to meet the winner of the Jacksonville Northside-Fairmont game on Saturday for the right to play for the state championship.
The Vikings, who are the defending state title holders, have drawn plenty of accolades on their way to a 26-2 mark this season under coach Perry Tyndall. After Thursday, count Melton among believers.
“We really didn’t play badly. Kinston is just a fantastic team,” said Melton, whose club closes at 23-7. “I’ve pretty much seen all of the regional teams in all classes, and I’ve seen all of the 4A teams in Raleigh. Kinston is better than anybody. They have so much talent – they bring guys off their bench who can really play.”
But the Wildcats were within 22-21 midway through the second period before the Vikings started to roll. Kinston would score 22 of the game’s next 26 points – a spurt that lasted well into the third quarter.
All facets of Kinston’s strategy began to click. The Vikings used their size to get some stickbacks, scored often in transition and drained some long-range 3s, including a pair by 6-foot-7 Brandon Ingram.
“Our game plan was to be efficient,” Tyndall said. “We wanted to shoot the ball well, control the rebounding and limit our turnovers. We shot (51 percent) and had only eight turnovers.
“We didn’t panic in the first quarter. In the second quarter, I got the sense that we were settling in – getting some easy baskets. By the third quarter, we were getting a lot of defensive stops, and we started to pull away.”
Ingram paced the Vikings with 17 points, followed by Josh Dawson with 14 and Jeremy Taylor with 12. Dawson also had seven rebounds and nine assists.
“We are at our best when we are going hard and scoring 13, 12, 11 points (per player),” Dawson said. “Not when somebody is scoring 30. When we play like this, we are hard to beat.”
Deshawn High was Bunn’s lone double-digit scorer with 24 points. For the Wildcats, the loss was only their second of the 2013 calendar year.
“Before the season, I thought we had a chance to be a good team,” Melton said. “But we had some new varsity guys coming in, and we had some bumps along the way. These guys gave everything they had. We played our best at the end of the year.”