Apex sophomore Ian Boyd made the big plays early and was still clutch down the stretch to lead the Cougars to the 4A state basketball championship with a 62-59 win over Lake Norman on Saturday night at Reynolds Coliseum.
Boyd, named the game’s most valuable player, and his teammates were at their best in the second half as Apex, which started the season 2-4, faced an incredible challenge in Lake Norman, which ended the season 28-2.
“I’m so proud of this team, just getting here in the first place,” Apex coach David Neal said. “We’ve had state championships at the school in other sports, and now we’ll have a basketball picture up there also.”
Boyd started the game with a drive for the first score and then blocked the Wildcats’ first shot at the other end. But Lake Norman, behind juniors Kishawn Pritchett (17 points), Hunter Seacat (18 points, 14 rebounds), and David Scott (14 points), took control and led 33-25 at halftime. Pritchett was named outstanding player for Lake Norman.
“It didn’t look good at halftime,” Neal said. “But I thought T.J. Wells set the tone with his defense in the third quarter when we needed it and that carried over into the fourth quarter.”
Boyd scored the Cougars’ first 10 points of the second half to cut the lead to 36-35. Wells, who had four steals in the game, then forced a turnover that led to a T.J. Evans basket, giving Apex a 37-36 lead and setting up the dramatic finish.
Apex, which finished the season 23-7, took the lead for good when Boyd passed to John Kitoko for a 3-ponter and the 49-47 advantage with 2:55 left.
“Boyd was just phenomenal at both ends of the court, especially in the second half,” Neal said. “And he also made the defensive play of the game with the blocked shot. Then he grabbed the rebound.”
The Cougars held a 58-55 lead when Boyd blocked a 3-point attempt by Pritchett with just 17 seconds to play. He then was fouled and hit two free throws with 14.8 seconds left, and Wells wrapped up the win with another pair of free throws with 8 seconds left in the game.
Evans, a senior guard, scored 22 for the winners and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds. He was named Outstanding Player for Apex.
“This has been an awesome ride,” Evans said. “I’m really excited to get one (state championship) for this man (Neal). He deserves it.”
The Wildcats won the state title in 2010 and had their eyes on one this year, said coach Brandon Jolly.
“Both teams made a lot of great plays and they happened to make a couple more than we did,” Jolly said. “We’ve got some really disappointed guys right now, but we’ve got a good nucleus coming back and maybe this will make us work even harder.”
Apex, meanwhile, will enjoy its triumph, the first in three appearances in a boys state championship game.
“So many guys played well for us in this game, and the guys believed in each other,” Neal said. “And these three guys (Evans, Wells and Boyd) are three of the best high school players I’ve ever seen.”