Voyager Academy could finally relax from a tense second half when the 6-foot-11 senior Jay Huff turned to the Vikings’ fans and raised his arms with about a minute to play.
The Durham charter school’s faithful responded as loudly in the stands as the players had efficiently on the floor with a 16-3 run in the fourth quarter to beat South Creek 71-50 in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1A boys basketball East Region final Saturday before 4,000-plus fans at Fayetteville’s Crown Arena.
With the win, the Vikings punched their ticket to next week’s state championship game.
“Our crowd is so loyal and believes in us,” Huff said. “We have a great crowd and it was so good to have them here. Some of them drove a long way to make it to the game.”
The Virginia-bound Huff finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots. He led the fifth-seeded Vikings (31-4) to their 16th straight victory past No. 6 seed South Creek (23-5) of Robersonville.
Despite the final 21-point margin, South Creek threatened a comeback victory. Voyager led 35-23 at halftime, but the Cougars opened the third quarter with a 9-2 run. They added an 8-2 run to trim the deficit to 44-40.
Voyager’s offense had turned stagnant in the third, with Huff scoring eight of the Vikings’ nine points at one point and nine of 13 for a 49-40 lead by the end of the period. But after South Creek trimmed the deficit to 55-47 on a 3-point field goal with 3:31 to play, Voyager went on its clinching 16-3 run.
Vikings coach Mike Huff, Jay’s father, credited the team’s experience. Senior guard Chance Greene scored 15 points and senior forward China Jones had 10.
A year ago Voyager lost a 66-62 overtime decision on this same court in the East Regional semifinal to Kentucky recruit Bam Adebayo and Northside High of Pinetown. A second-half collapse in 2016 would have forever turned this place into a house of horrors for the seniors.
“We talked about what it felt like to lose here last year,” Mike Huff said. “We didn’t want that feeling again.”
In a new tournament format this year, Voyager’s semifinal game meant a trip to East Carteret, the top seed and defending state champion. The Vikings won 74-63 on Tuesday to end East Carteret’s 47-game home-court winning streak.
“That’s an outstanding question,” said Mike Huff when asked if winning the regional semi or winning in Fayetteville was more emotional. “I’d say they’re equally big. To go to East Carteret and win on their floor, we had to be tough. But we’re happy to come back here and get a win. It’s a great feeling.”
1A girls: Plymouth 50, Roxboro 37
Top-seeded Roxboro Community (30-3) struggled with its outside shooting and lost to No. 2 seed Plymouth (29-1) in the 1A girls East regional final, 50-37.
Junior guard Elana Ingram was Roxboro’s only player in double figures with 25 points. The Bulldogs shot 21.9 percent (14 of 64) from the field and 12.5 from 3-point range (3 of 24).
Plymouth’s Brittany Franklin, a 6-4 junior, finished with a near-triple-double of 19 points, 25 rebounds and eight blocked shots.