It took a half for reigning 3A boys basketball state champion Fayetteville Terry Sanford to pull away from a hot at the right time Corinth Holders boys basketball team Saturday night, but the Bulldogs eventually did, grabbing a 67-49 victory.
The win keeps Terry Sanford (28-1) on track to retain that N.C. High School Athletic Association title with a 2015-16 team that is missing just one key player from last year’s championship squad.
The Pirates, co-champions and tournament champions of the Two Rivers 3A Conference, finished the season with a 19-9 mark. The third-round playoff appearance is the first in the six-year history of the current incarnation of the Johnston County school.
Corinth Holders did make things hard on the Bulldogs for a time. Despite 10 first-half turnovers and giving up four teams to Terry Sanford, the Pirates trailed just 28-25 at the half. That was thanks mainly to a five-point scoring spurt to end the second quarter.
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Steven Adams scored on a feed from Ra’quan Smith with 11 seconds to play, then Adams stole a Bulldogs pass. He hit teammate Khalil Bryant running up the middle of the floor. Bryant got off a 24-foot 3-pointer just before the buzzer that bounced off of the backboard, hit the front of the rim, then the cylinder and rolled around the entire rim before dropping in the net.
Adams led Corinth Holders with 14 points on the night, while Bryant added 11 off of the bench.
Terry Sanford, which won for the 13th time in 13 outings in its home gym this season, had opened up a 26-15 lead with 4:39 to play in the first half, but the Pirates held the Bulldoges scoreless the rest of the half.
“They came at us with a pretty big punch in the second quarter, but we came back at them,” said Corinth Holders coach Chris Davis.
The reigning champs quickly pulled away in the third quarter, however. Malik Johnson drained a 3-pointer on the opening possession of the half and the Bulldogs hit five total 3s in the third quarter to rush out to a 50-36 advantage.
Justin King had a game-high 15 points for the Bulldogs; Johnson added 14 and Isaiah Stallings finished with 11.
“We made some mistakes at the beginning of the second half that really hurt us,” Davis said. “We wanted to come out and stay where we were (on the scoreboard) or make another run at them. We did the exact opposite. We took shots too quickly and made bad passes.”
The Bulldogs only added to their lead in the fourth quarter as the Pirates’ attempts to get back in the game with outside shots failed for the most part.
“We lost some rotation with our match-up zone when they spread the floor,” Davis said. “We haven’t faced a team who did what they did, leaving the post empty. We’ve tried to practice against it sometimes, but it’s different when you’re on the floor trying to do it against the state champions.”
After a 4-4 start, the Pirates won 15 of their last 20 games on the season.
“This team was stuck about the middle of the season and we just came at things with a whole new defensive and offensive approach,” Davis said. “I wasn’t going to keep banging our heads against the wall. It was time to change things up philosophically. The guys adjusted to it very well and we went on a great run to finish the season.”
The Pirates will lose an eight-player senior class. Jordan Neal, Kalen Cooper, Caleb Marshall, Wesley DiNardo, Andrew Jones, Bryant, Jones and Adams.
“I told them, ‘Don’t walk out of this locker room feeling sad, with your heads down,’” Davis said. “You’re a team that was a champion three times this season (at the Bunn Holiday Classic and two conference titles). Act like a champion still; because that’s who they are.”