The battle for Chapel Hill was a draw Friday night, as the East Chapel Hill boys basketball team ran away from Chapel Hill 59-35 after the Tigers’ girls team held off the Wildcats 42-40 in overtime at East Chapel Hill.
The Chapel Hill girls, ranked No. 9 in The News & Observer preseason poll, led by six with 2 minutes, 22 seconds to play in regulation after Alliyah Chaplin’s driving basket. But East Chapel Hill senior guard T.J. Johnson took over, scoring the Wildcats’ final eight points to send the game into overtime.
There, Chaplin (25 points) couldn’t be stopped, getting to the basket on two key drives, the second coming with a minute remaining that gave Chapel Hill (2-0) 42-40 lead. Johnson couldn’t sink a desperation heave at the buzzer as the Wildcats (0-1) fell short.
“We were looking for Alliyah to get the ball because she’s such an outstanding player,” Chapel Hill coach Sherry Norris said. “She showed composure.”
Chaplin and sister Ti’Mia are the only starters returning from last year’s team, as Norris shuffled players in the lineup throughout the game, getting key contributions from juniors Shannon Wulff and Anne Crabill and senior Kolby Levesque.
“It’s good experience, because we only have two starters returning from last year,” Norris said. “This was good for them, to be in a close ballgame like that.”
Johnson (31 points) was the lone Wildcat in double figures as coach Michelle Wood looks for a complimentary player or two with the graduation of all-star guard Ali Cyr-Scully.
“With Ali and T.J. the last three, four years, nobody else has needed to score a whole bunch,” Wood said. “We’ve got to find that one or two. We have kids who can shoot; they’ve got to find their game and their rhythm when it’s time to shoot. We’ll get there.”
ECH trailed by as much as 12 in the first half, but Johnson continued to penetrate and hit shots, often trading baskets with Alliyah Chaplin.
“We really weren’t sure what we were going to look like when we came out because it’s such a different mix of kids this year,” Wood said. “I’m really proud of them. We could’ve wilted after the first quarter, first half, and I challenged them at halftime to play with some heart and some passion, and we did that.”
ECH coach Ray Hartsfield wanted his team to play better transition defense after Southern Durham ran through the Wildcats Thursday night. Chapel Hill (1-1) didn’t get many fast-break chances and didn’t shoot well in transition or in the halfcourt.
ECH led by seven in the third quarter, 39-32, but the Tigers went cold until the fourth as the Wildcats (1-1) ran off 15 consecutive points to take command.
“I learned we can defend and get back in transition when we focus on it,” Hartsfield said. “We just let (Southern) beat us in transition, so it was a concentrated effort. Our zone was a little more active, and we took away the middle of the floor a little bit.”
The Wildcats are a well-rounded team, led by conference player of the year Carter Collins, who will play at Davidson next season. Collins scored 20 points Friday, but he had plenty of help. Guard Justin Tucker (two 3-pointers, eight points) is a valuable perimeter player, but Hartsfield likes the development of his inside game.
Center Clay Watkins (6-foot-10) scored seven points and altered several Chapel Hill shots, while forward Kevin Gilland was a force on the boards. Forwards Jonathan Runyambo and Nick Decapite are good scorers and defenders, too.
“Last year, people could focus on, ‘Let’s run a double-team at Carter,’” Hartsfield said. “Well, this year, Runyambo will hurt you, Tucker will hurt you, big Clay will hurt you. And we’ve got a gang on the boards.”
Rebounding is a focus for Chapel Hill coach Rodney Carter, too.
“We’ve got a young team, so we’ve got to play as hard as we can,” Carter said. “We’ve got to play better on D and we’ve got to defend better, for sure. We’ve got to rebound. Rebounding right now is killing is.”
Elijah Hayes scored 14 to lead the Tigers, but Chapel Hill scored only 10 points in the second half and shot 31 percent for the game.
“I learned my boys can get the shots – we just didn’t make the shots,” Carter said. “We didn’t rebound well. We defended everybody well but Carter. He’s a very tough kid.”