Wednesday was the “12th anniversary” of the longest boys basketball game ever played. The game was played 48 years ago, on Feb. 29, 1964, but because the game was played during leap year the date doesn’t roll around but once every four years.
No other basketball game in high school, college or the NBA has ever come close to matching the 13 overtimes the five starters at Angier High and Boone Trail in Mamers played that night in the Harnett County high school championship.
Campbell University’s Carter Gymnasium was packed. When all the standing space around the court was filled, the doors were closed and spectators were turned away well before the scheduled tipoff.
By the time that Boone Trail emerged with a 56-54 victory, the 10 starters had played every minute.
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The game was so long that game officials tried to contact Simon Terrell, who was then the executive director of the N.C. High School Athletic Association, after the seventh overtime and the game tied 48-48 to see what to do. The NCHSAA bans play on Sunday and it was already after 11 p.m. with no end in sight. The game, which started about 8:30 p.m., ended just before midnight, players recalled.
Angier player Caulton Tudor, now a sports columnist for The News & Observer, remembers the officials couldn’t reach Terrell so the coaches were told to give the players water and resume the game after a five-minute break. Early in the 13th of the three-minute overtimes, Boone Trail’s Frankie Stewart worked free for a layup and a 54-52 lead. Angier missed and Stewart grabbed the rebound. He was fouled immediately and made two free throws for a 56-52 lead with a minute left. Angier’s Ron Ashley scored on a baseline jumper with 30 seconds left and Angier forced a turnover with eight seconds left in the period. Boone Trail’s Ralph Hester clinched the win with an interception.
“I remember thinking that we were going to score and send it into another overtime,” said Angier’s Phil Ferrell, who recently retired as Harnett County Schools superintendent. “I was completely confident that we were going to win.”
Ferrell also recalled that Tudor cautioned several Angier players privately before the last overtime began to not mention that it was the 13th overtime. “Ronnie Ashley was very superstitious,” Ferrell said. “We didn’t want him thinking about 13 being unlucky.”
Angier had trailed 40-35 entering the fourth period, but led 46-44 with 12 seconds left and had the ball. Boone Trail forced a turnover and 6-foot-7 William Brown scored at the buzzer to force the first overtime.
Later, Tudor missed the first of a one-and-one opportunity with Angier leading 50-48 in the third overtime. Boone Trail scored to keep the game going.
At the end of the eighth overtime, Angier’s John Gardner scored, but officials waved off the apparent basket for a three-second violation.
Neither team scored in nine of the 13 extra periods.
“Possession of the ball was our coaches’ top priority,” Tudor recalled. “Both coaches wanted to take the last shot of the period. The teams were exhausted, and neither team wanted to get into a running game at that point.”
Stewart and Gardner lived up to their billing as their teams’ top scorers. Stewart had 29 points and Gardner 27.
“We had what we called the give-and-go offense,” Ferrell said. “Give the ball to Johnny. He was going to shoot.”
Ferrell said the thing he remembers most about the game is the friendships he has had with the other players, Angier’s and Boone Trail’s.
“We all knew each other,” Ferrell said. “I really hope today’s players can develop the friendships like we had.”
And they knew a lot about long games. The two teams had gone into overtime in four of their preceding five boys basketball games.