Tar Heel legislators held their own on the basketball court Tuesday, but their counterparts in the South Carolina General Assembly took home the coveted gold trophy.
The Palmetto State team won 66-63 on its home court in Carolina Coliseum at the University of South Carolina, where a handful of supporters kept the energy level high.
The legislatures of the neighboring states have held a biennial basketball game since 1979. North Carolina still leads the series 10-7.
North Carolina started out like the 2015 NCAA National Championship banner was hanging in its legislative chamber instead of Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium. The first half ended with South Carolina trailing 33-26.
But South Carolina rallied in the second half, quickly tying the score then holding off the Tar Heels at the end.
“Fortunately, we were able to get a rhythm and get a couple shots to fall for us,” said S.C. Sen. Ronnie Sabb, the team captain. “We are delighted to keep the trophy in South Carolina, where it belongs.”
Sabb, a Democrat from Williamsburg, said a key to pulling ahead was containing NCGA player No. 12, Rep. Josh Dobson.
“He was just too quick. I was trying to guard him, and next thing I know he’s to the basket and I’m out of there,” Sabb said. “We went zone and were able to contain him a bit, but he’s an excellent ball player.”
Dobson, a Republican from Avery County, scored about two dozen points for North Carolina.
“We did think we had a chance until the very end,” Dobson said. “They really got back on defense, and that took us out of our game a little bit and slowed us down.”
With the lead changing hands down the stretch, both teams took to fouling to force a change of possession. Four fouls and two timeouts were called in the last 36 seconds of the game.
“It was a hard-fought game,” Dobson said. “And for a bunch of old guys, I think it was entertaining because it went back and forth.”
N.C. team captain Rep. Bryan Holloway, who fouled out of the game, said his team started strong but just couldn’t finish. He credited Sabb with a couple 3-point shots that closed the gap for South Carolina.
“Overall, I think our players played well, and we had a good time,” said Holloway, a Republican from Stokes County. “That’s what is important.”
Holloway was thankful none of his players were hurt, unlike the last time the two teams met in 2013 and went home with broken ribs on both sides. EMTs were on hand Tuesday and needed to roll out S.C. Rep. Justin Bamberg, who injured his knee in the first half.
After the game, the two teams shared some laughs over dinner before the tired Tar Heels boarded their bus for the ride back to Raleigh, where the two teams will meet again in 2017.