Ever since last year ended, Millbrook senior Trejon Jacob has had his mind on Garner. As he stepped to the free throw line, down one with 1.7 seconds left on the clock in the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A basketball playoffs, Jacob’s mind again drifted to Garner.
“Just get these free throws and let’s go get Garner,” he thought to himself.
He made both, sending the Wildcats boys past Apex 75-74 and into a fourth-round meeting against Garner, the team that Millbrook lost to in last year’s 4A East final, scheduled for Tuesday.
But Apex made the most of that last 1.7 seconds, causing hearts to leap into the throats of Cougars and Wildcats alike. Eric Field’s full-court baseball pass to 6-foot-7 Eric Fox was true, but Fox’s attempt fell short as people from both sides ran onto the court either in celebration or protest.
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Cougars coach David Neal wanted a foul on the play, given the circumstances.
“I saw Eric Fox get taken out, and we should’ve been shooting free throws,” Neal said. “If you’re going to call the one they called with 1.7 seconds left, then he got fouled down there.”
The Millbrook girls also advanced to the fourth round, downing East Wake 56-50.
The boys’ game was a steady, swinging shifts of 9-0 and 7-0 runs. Millbrook’s ball pressure, led by John Burwell (17 points, four steals) helped it take an early lead, but Apex’s free throw and 3-point shooting had the Cougars up by as much as seven.
No. 3 seed Millbrook (28-1) led 35-33 at halftime but trailed by five entering the fourth.
Jacob (22 points, eight rebounds) started to drive to the basket more, understanding that No. 11 Apex (22-8) was dealing with foul trouble after Colin Molden (17 points, six assists) and Ian Boyd (15 points, nine rebounds) picked up their fourth fouls with plenty of time left in the third quarter.
Jordan Whitfield (16 points, seven assists), who spent the first three quarters setting up his teammates, started taking more shots in the fourth and had the answer for Apex’s baskets.
Most of those baskets came from Fox, who had 29 points to lead all scorers. His long two gave the Cougars a 74-73 lead as the clocked ticked under 10 seconds.
Whitfield got the ball upcourt for Millbrook, then found Jacob trailing. Molden was whistled for fouling Jacob on the way up, sending him to the line.
“He has excellent vision,” Jacob said of Whitfield. “So he found me.”
Boyd ends his career with 2,128 points, the most in Apex history.
“To say he’s special doesn’t do it justice. How lucky have we been to coach him and Apex fans been to watch him for four years?” Neal said. “For four years we’ve been telling him to score 20 points and score the other team’s best player and he did it every night. It’s absurd.”
Millbrook’s girls made it a point to collapse on East Wake star Angel Rizor any time she touched the ball. The Wildcats forced Rizor into five jump balls, all just feet from the basket.
The post defense proved critical when Rizor did almost anything else she wanted late in the game. The Cincinnati recruit had 23 points and 15 rebounds.
“She was just a beast on the boards,” Millbrook girls basketball coach Chris East said. “You can’t let a great player like Angel just go off and have open looks. That part I was proud of, that we collapsed on her.”
Rizor said the team’s 16 missed free throws were too much to overcome.
“I missed eight. If we had made free throws we would’ve won the game,” Rizor said. “Other than that, we played pretty had. We gave it all we got.”
No. 2 seed Millbrook (27-2) led 24-20 at halftime and never allowed 10-seed East Wake (24-5) to take the lead. The Warriors got points off turnovers, but Millbrook’s Kai Crutchfield and Dazia Powell (15 points) made the right plays to pull out the win.
Andreal Bass (11 points, six rebounds) came up big off the bench.
“We were lucky to survive tonight. They do so many things well,” East said. “At this stage, it’s ‘survive and advance,’ so I’ll take it.”
Millbrook will host Southeast Raleigh on Tuesday in the fourth round.