Chapel Hill’s improbable run ended Saturday at Northern Guilford, losing 56-44 in the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A playoffs, the victims of their own poor shooting and a never-ending onslaught of foul calls by the referees that dragged the fourth period out almost as long as the previous three combined.
“The ball didn’t drop for us today. We missed a lot of shots. They weren’t really doing anything to keep us away from the goal,” said Tigers coach Rodney Carter. “In Roy Williams’ famous words, you look better when the ball goes in.”
Despite the disappointing turn of events, Carter did his best to put a smiley face on the loss, as his players filed by, shaking his hand and occasionally giving him a respectful chest bump.
“If I could have scripted this in August I wouldn’t say we make it this far, especially without a dominant big person, but we did,” he said.
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The Tigers return four of their starters next year. Only Parker Hill, who Carter called “a very good offensive threat,” is graduating.
Both teams were sluggish offensively in the first period, which opened with three blocks in successive possessions. The Tigers’ Ben Gaynes blocked Trey Johnsen on the opening possession, Northern Guilford’s Alec Hildreth rejected a shot by Willie Jansen, and Gaynes blocked Jarrett Boyd.
Nearly a minute and a half elapsed before Boyd flipped in a basket to give the Nighthawks the initial lead, 2-0.
Chapel Hill failed to score on six successive trips to the basket, but Elijah Haynes drained a 3-pointer and the Tigers were finally on the board, tying the game 3-3 with 4:20 showing on the clock. Haynes was the game’s high scorer with 22 points, despite being pulled twice to the bench due to foul trouble.
Haynes gave the Tigers a 9-8 lead at the end of the first period after he stole the ball and went coast-to-coast for a bucket.
Both teams continued their cold shooting in a low-scoring second period, with the lead flipping three times before the Nighthawks went out in front for good with just over two and a half minutes remaining before halftime. The third period also had scant offensive production.
But in the fourth period the fouls started flying, and that was a boon for Northern Guilford.
The Chapel Hill fans were incredulous over some of the calls, and let the referees know exactly how they felt.
“There were a whole lot of fouls called. We fouled them 24 times in the second half,” Carter said. “I’ve never had a game where I’ve had 24 fouls called.”
He refused to bite when asked if the refs were calling the game too tightly.
“I will keep my opinion to myself. They did a great job,” he said.
However, he acknowledged, “It definitely affected the flow of the game when every time down a foul is called. These guys didn’t let them play tonight. They were never able to get in the rhythm of the game.”