South Central’s season won’t come to an end at the hands of a Wake County team this year.
The Falcons guaranteed that Saturday, defeating No. 1 Millbrook 70-50 in the 4A East Finals at Minges Coliseum.
Behind future UNC Tar Heel Day’Ron Sharpe, who had 26 points and 16 rebounds, No. 3 South Central (28-1) dominated the Wildcats and will make its first NCHSAA state championship appearance. The Falcons will face West Charlotte.
Shykeim Phillips added 21 points for the Falcons. Collin Lewis and Adam Carey led the Wildcats with 12 points each.
Millbrook (27-2) saw one of its best seasons in school history come to a crushing end. One of the highest scoring teams in the nation, the Wildcats were locked up all game by the Falcons’ defense. The 50 points scored were a season-low by Millbrook, which led just once in the game, 6-5, after a 3 from senior Phillip Burwell.
South Central outscored the Wildcats 18-5 the rest of the first, and led by double digits most of the second quarter.
Millbrook head coach Chris Davis said a double-digit deficit early was too big to overcome.
“It was tough,” Davis said. “We were just trying to keep the guys in a rhythm and we wanted to stay with it and stay the course. Just getting over the hump, their zone really bothered us. We usually move the ball against the zone better than that.”
South Central’s front line includes the 6-10 Sharpe, 6-5 Shy’Quan Jones and 6-2 Jeremy Lewis. They also rotate in 6-5 Cydney Williams.
The Wildcats missed out on opportunities to keep it close in the first, missing six free throws. The Falcons only got to the line 10 times in the first half, but thrived on second-chance opportunities thanks to Sharpe, who dominated the offensive glass. Behind Sharpe, South Central held a 42-26 rebounding advantage.
“We couldn’t stop them on the glass, couldn’t speed them up,” Davis said. “They did some really good things tonight and they just had more fight than us tonight. It was just their night, they were amazing.”
Millbrook only hit four shots from the field in the second quarter and South Central increased their lead thanks to nine points in the second from Sharpe, who almost had a double-double (14 points, 9 rebounds) at halftime.
Sharpe started the second half with a dunk that increased the Falcons’ lead to 17 and the final outcome was never in doubt after that.
The Falcons have now won two in a row over Wake County Schools, after blowing out No. 2 Wakefield by 34 points on Thursday. South Central is 5-0 against Wake County teams this season after defeating Athens Drive and Leesville in the John Wall Holiday Invitational and Rolesville in the second round of the NCHSAA playoffs.
The Falcons are no strangers to the East Finals in Minges, located just seven miles from its campus. But teams from Raleigh have played spoiler in this same building - Heritage a year ago, Leesville Road the year before.
Defeats in this building in the past served as motivation for the Falcons.
“It hurt, the last two years, every time we fought hard and come to regional and lose it,” Sharpe said. “I can’t explain the feeling.”
Millbrook started the season 24-0 before falling to rival Leesville Road in the Cap-7 semifinals. The Wildcats averaged 82.7 points per game this season, but couldn’t get going on Saturday.
“We wanted to keep them out of transition,” South Central head coach Chris Cherry said. “We just wanted to play them five on five. We play them five on five with our length and athleticism we knew we could shut them down.”
Davis will lose seven seniors but returns Carey, Jalen McCoy, William Felton, Nolan Dorsey and Sam Hood. Their experience in Greenville -- playing on the big stage and coming up short -- will be a driving factor next season.
“I’m hoping this will push these guys,” Davis said with Felton, Carey and Hood next to him, “to want to do this next year.”
Carey added, “We want to use this as an example of what happens when you don’t keep pushing, keep working together and keep playing through the whole time.”
Millbrook will head to offseason looking to bounce back and the first step starts sooner rather than later for the rising seniors, who now are the leaders of the team.
“The spring workouts we get introduced to new players,” Carey said. “Also in the summer we get new players and that’s when we see what we get to work with.”
Millbrook finished 16-13 last season, the first with Davis on the sidelines, and were one game from the state title this year. Davis likes the direction his program is trending.
“I couldn’t be happier about the fight,” Davis said. “All coaches are competitive and don’t like to lose, but I’ve taken a different spin on this one. I’m already thinking that I’m going to use this loss to give these guys motivation for what we do next year.”