Top-seed Kestrel Heights rallied from an eight-point halftime deficit to defeat six-seed East Carteret 71-61 and advanced to the fourth round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1A boys basketball playoffs.
The Hawks (29-1) trailed the majority of the first half but turned it up to begin the third quarter.
Trailing 28-20, Kestrel Heights scored the first 11 points to grab its first lead since it was 2-0. The Hawks continued to use full-court pressure and tight man-to-man defense to force the Mariners into turnovers and bad looks.
After East Carteret scored four straight points to take a 32-31 lead with 4:33 left in the third, Kestrel’s Marcotis Hall’s 2-point jumper gave the Hawks the lead which they would never surrender. Hall finished with 15 points.
“It had to be the halftime speech we gave,” said Kestrel Heights coach Lenell Wallace of his team’s second-half turnaround. “We told them, after all of the mistakes we made, we’re still only down eight. We’ve been there before.”
Kestrel Heights will face No. 7 seed Whiteville at home in the next round.
After his team scored just nine first-quarter points, Wallace told his players to keep driving and attacking the basket. With that effort, they gained a huge advantage at the free throw line. The Hawks shot 24-of-33 from the charity stripe, while East Carteret was just 6-of-12.
“We still had the intensity, and we came out aggressive,” said Javier Rogers, who led the Hawks with 20 points. “Since they were in foul trouble, we kept attacking the basket. We kept feeding the post, and if they didn’t have anything, they kicked it back out.”
Kestrel extended its five-point third quarter lead to double digits following a 10-5 run to start the fourth quarter. After trading baskets at the two-minute mark, Hall made 1-of-2 free throws to push the lead to nine with 38 seconds remaining.
The Mariners (19-10) had four players score in double figures, led by Jack Garrison’s 16, all coming in the second half.
While Kestrel’s focus was on stopping Garrison, Malik Collins and Darius Collins picked up the slack early. Malik had 14 points, 10 coming in the first half, and Darius scored 13.
“Our game plan was to stop Jack Garrison and Marshon Simmons. Malik Collins did a lot of damage on the boards,” said Wallace.
After a 38-point winning margin following the opening two games, Rogers insists a game like tonight’s didn’t affect them mentally, just physically.
“It affects us physically. We’re tired. We’re 29-1 now and we just have to keep pushing,” he said.