Millbrook’s top-seeded boys basketball team didn’t look like itself through several shaky stretches, but the Wildcats steadied themselves, keying off the cool countenance of senior Phillip Burwell.
Burwell’s poker face helped draw a technical foul midway through a wild fourth quarter that tipped the game Millbrook’s way as the Wildcats (27-1) won 80-71 over fifth-seeded Seventy-First High (26-4) in the fourth round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs Tuesday before a packed Millbrook gym.
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound point guard finished the night with 25 points and 10 assists. How’s this for steady? His points by quarter were four, five, eight and eight.
“He’s our heart and soul,” senior Collin Lewis said of his fellow team co-captain. “He keeps us in the game. His intensity is amazing.”
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Millbrook had fallen behind 59-50 on Seventy-First’s 9-0 run to start the fourth quarter, but the Wildcats bounced back with their own 8-0 run to trim the Falcons’ lead to 59-58 with 4:40 to play.
The back-and-forth game’s momentum was still capable of swinging either way down the stretch until Burwell’s pesky defense tied up Seventy-First’s Thomas Hendricks at midcourt.
What happened next probably had as much to do with the subliminal message Burwell’s composure had been sending out all night.
Hendricks threw up his right arm in frustration and hit Burwell’s chest. Whether Hendricks’ emotions got the better of him and he accidentally hit Burwell or if he intentionally threw his arm at Burwell doesn’t matter at this point. Burwell rocked back upon contact and the nearby official instantly whistled a technical.
“I bait players into doing something that I know will get them into trouble,” Burwell said. “I keep my cool because I’ve learned in the past if you don’t keep your cool it can go bad on you.”
After that sequence, the air went out of Seventy-First’s upset bid. What started as Millbrook’s 8-0 spurt before the technical finished as a 19-0 run for 69-59 lead with 1:39 to play.
The run included two three-point field goals from Lewis, who finished with seven points.
After Burwell, the Wildcats featured balanced scoring. Sam Hood, a 6-8 junior, added 12 points and Jalen McCoy, a 6-4 junior, 10.
Seventy-First’s Brion McLaurin scored 24 and Xzavier Howard 18.
Millbrook’s grit kept the Wildcats in the game when they struggled to score from midway in the the first quarter through midway of the second period. Seventy-First solved Millbrook’s 2-2-1 press for some easy breakaway baskets. The Falcons also mixed in some three-point field goals.
Seventy-First’s 7-0 run extended its lead to 37-25 with 3:06 left in the first half, but Millbrook outscored the Falcons 11-4 to trim the deficit to 41-36 at halftime.
“We wanted to play another game,” Burwell said. “We didn’t want this to be our last game on our home court. We already lost one game. One loss is enough. We want to win. We’re a really close group with a brotherhood.”