SMITHFIELD During Thursday’s practice, Neuse Charter boys basketball coach Jimmie Sanders told his team that at this point in the season, records don’t matter.
He couldn’t have been more right.
Thirteenth-seeded Wallace-Rose Hill, who entered the state playoffs just 10-13 overall, visited top-seeded Neuse Charter Friday night and stunned the 24-5 Cougars 70-53 in the third round of the class 1A playoffs.
“It’s (about) who’s playing well right now and who has a good rhythm going,” Sanders said. “The conference they play in is a 2A/1A split conference. So when you play a 2A schedule basically and then you also play in some 3A and 4A non-conference games, that’s a tough conference. We knew what kind of team it was. The seed didn’t mean anything.”
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The Bulldogs never trailed, jumping on Neuse Charter early with a hectic, up-tempo pace and a full-court press. Ten minutes into the contest, Wallace-Rose Hill had built a 20-point lead thanks to suffocating ball pressure and turn-and-go fast breaks.
“Initially we would’ve liked more of a halfcourt (tempo),” Sanders said. “But they got out on us so quick that the only way we could get back in the game was to kind of catch pace back with them. We can play either way, fast or slow. When our shots are falling I don’t mind playing that way but tonight it would’ve been nice to keep (the score) a little closer in the 50’s.”
The Cougars twice managed to whittle a large deficit down to eight points but twice saw things slip out of their grasp again. After trailing 30-10 early in the second quarter, Neuse Charter got it within reach at 40-32 by halftime.
But a five-minute field goal drought to start the second half allowed the Bulldogs to stretch their lead to 17 points before Neuse Charter again closed within eight early in the fourth.
With the Cougars in the double bonus with 3:40 remaining, Wallace-Rose Hill made 10-of-16 free throws down the stretch to pull away one last time.
“Every time we’d cut it to about eight we’d get a steal and kind of fumble the ball and give it right back and they’d hit a shot and get the momentum. We just could not keep it going tonight for some reason but it’s just like that some nights,” Sanders said.
Darrius Stevens led the Cougars with 19 points while Jourdan Sanders accounted for 12.
The loss marked the end of an incredible season for a program in just its second year of varsity play.
“I couldn’t be prouder,” Sanders said. “I told them in the locker room, 25 wins, made it to the third round of the playoffs and won a conference championship. They’ve got a lot of things to be proud of.
“We didn’t get it done tonight, but it’s a game. Someone has to win and someone has to lose.”
The seniors Sanders, Jarrod Sealey, Rock Wilson, Darrin Robinson, Tre’shon Charles and Kyle Austene all played their final games for the Cougars.
“A lot of those kids put themselves in positions that a lot of kids wouldn’t do,” Sanders said. “Being a new high school, a lot of those kids have only been here a year or two so they left their comfort zone and came to a little school with temporary buildings and left all their friends behind. They’ve come over here and done everything we’ve asked of them academically and on the court. They’ve done a great justice for our program.”