To be the best, you have to beat the best.
And Heritage’s boys basketball team did just that, solidifying its spot atop the N&O area rankings by winning the John Wall Holiday Invitational’s David West bracket by downing No. 2 Garner 68-62.
The Huskies also defeated No. 7 Southern Durham and blew out No. 3 Millbrook in the semifinals to earn a trip to the title game.
Jarren McAllister, a Virginia Tech commit who had 28 points and 10 rebounds in the championship game, was named the most valuable player in the bracket.
Heritage – in its first ever Holiday Invitational appearance – became the first school to have both its boys and girls teams make it to the title game, let alone win it.
“Man, it’s just hard to find the words,” Heritage coach Tilden Brill said. “For us to do this here against Garner, especially with their tradition … I’m just really proud of our guys.”
Jayden Gardner, who had 14 points and nine rebounds, has played in competitive AAU games, but said nothing compares to winning it all for his school.
“There’s no place like this, it was packed,” he said. “It was a wonderful experience to be out there and playing.”
Garner coach Eddie Gray said he was disappointed with his team’s free throw shooting. The Trojans went 7-for-17 from the charity stripe. “We’ve been working on our free throw shooting,” Gray said.
HILLCREST PREP (AZ.) 77, TAMPA CATHOLIC (FLA.) 60: The T.J. Warren bracket was won by the top team with the No. 1 player in the nation, Hillcrest Prep (Az.) and Arizona recruit DeAndre Ayton.
The Hawks downed Tampa Catholic (Fl.) and Kevin Knox, the No. 7 player in the class of 2017 per 247 Sports, 77-60 in the title game.
Ayton was named most valuable player and Knox won most outstanding player.
UNIVERSITY SCHOOL (FLA.) 71, CARY 69 (OT): Cary was the only N&O area school to be placed in the T.J. Warren bracket, and the defending 4A East champions kept fans on the edge of their seats again.
The Imps lost 71-69 in overtime after Vernon Carey Jr., the No. 5 sophomore prospect in the ESPN recruiting rankings, landed a buzzer-beater. It was the second time in three games the Imps lost on a buzzer-beater by one of the top players in the nation, falling to Tampa Catholic on Kevin Knox’s 3-pointer in the opening round.
However, overtime wasn’t a place many expected the Imps to even be in. With 6-foot-8 center Phillip Blackley out with an MCL injury, Cary had no player standing over 6-foot-1 in the starting lineup.
University School had Carey, who’s 6-foot-10, and Balsa Koprivica, who’s 7-foot-1.
Donte Tatum, Cary’s point guard, was stuck on Koprivica early as University raced out to a 14-point lead.
Coach Allan Gustafson took a timeout and Cary went back to playing its traditional man-to-man defense and it showed.
The Imps climbed back into the game on the back of Tatum, who finished with 30 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and four steals, but couldn’t quite finish.
Elijah Idlett added 17 points and six rebounds for the Imps. Jeff Fortuny scored 10.
J.M. ROBINSON 86, CANNON SCHOOL 75: In the T.J. Warren third-place game, the Bulldogs outlasted the Cougars in a battle of two Concord schools. Virginia Commonwealth recruit Lavar Batts Jr. scored 35 points in the win.
Jarius Hamilton scored 26 points and grabbed eight rebounds for Cannon.
NORTHWOOD TEMPLE 79, THORNLEA SCHOOL (CANADA) 77: In the seventh-place game of the T.J. Warren bracket, the Eagles from Fayetteville led by as many as 20 in the second quarter. But the play of Cashius McNeilly, the top-ranked freshman point guard in the nation, brought Thornlea back and Daimag Dyall-Richards hit a layup with 3:40 to go to retake the lead.
Northwood Temple’s Mike Hueitt finished with 18 points and eight assists.
McNeilly finished with 34 points on 8-for-13 shooting from behind the arc to tie a tournament single-game record and set a new one for the full tournament.