As they emerged from a makeshift locker room at Wilmington’s Hoggard High in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A boys basketball playoffs, the Cary Imps shared the same heartbreak just suffered on Monday night as well as the same goal for next year.
The host Vikings scored the first seven points of the second overtime to down Cary 92-83. In a game that went basket-for-basket for most of the 42 minutes played, the last few sealed the Imps’ season.
“We’re so proud of them representing our school,” Cary coach Allan Gustafson said. “There’s not a teacher that has anything negative to say about our kids. The student body supports them so well. I mean, we had kids coming down from Cary on a Monday night, 7:30 tipoff?”
Those who did make the trip were rewarded with a show from each team’s stars.
No. 6 Hoggard (22-6) had 46 points from point guard Trae Bryant and 30 from big man A.J. Frye. No. 11 Cary (18-7) had its 1-2 punch going in high gear as Donte Tatum had 31 points, many of them in regulation before giving way in overtime to Cory Gensler, who had 26.
Cary was close to sealing the game in regulation and the first overtime. A halfcourt heave hit front rim at the end of regulation and a traveling call with 4.1 seconds left in the first overtime gave the ball away just as Gensler was driving to the lane.
But if there is a silver lining for the Imps, it’s that there will be no losses due to graduation. There were no seniors this year.
“We’ve got the whole team back,” Gustafson said.
Cary’s role players held the team together through the first half, which Cary led 34-30. Jay Hicks had 12 points and Phil King had eight.
Matching Hoggard’s two leading scorers was no small feat.
Frye, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound workhorse, was too much for Cary on the low block. Bryant seemingly scored every time he slashed into the lane, either with a falling layup or getting fouled.
But Tatum, Hicks and others kept Cary in it with hustle plays. Cary worked the offensive glass against the taller Vikings and didn’t lose the lead from the end of the first quarter – a buzzer-beating halfcourt low line drive from Tatum splashed through nothing-but-net to make it 19-17 Cary – until there was 6:50 remaining in regulation.
At the end of regulation, Cary went ahead 64-61 on Tatum’s free throws with 36.9 to play.
Hoggard tacked on a free throw seconds later, then Cary missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 17.2 to go. Bryant hit a layup high off the glass while going to the ground with five seconds left, but Gensler’s halfcourt shot nearly went in.
Instead the two were tied 64-all.
“Rather than drop our heads, we put ourselves in position to win again, and that’s a reflection of the character the kids have,” Gustafson said.
There were four lead changes in the first overtime. Gensler’s shot in the lane with 30.8 seconds left put Cary up 77-75, which was answered by another Bryant drive with 20 seconds to go.
Gensler was called for palming with 4.1 seconds to go in the first overtime, giving the ball back to Hoggard in a 77-all tie. Gensler blocked Bryant’s 3, sending it into another OT period.
Cary had three players foul out after regulation.
“That’s tough. That’s hard to take,” Gustafson said.
Hoggard had the final push, however, in the second overtime and will play Fayetteville’s Seventy-First in Tuesday’s third round.