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Junior Jimmy Forte was outscored by opposing senior Jermaine Smith in a spectacular individual shootout in Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf’s Barney Willimason Gymnasium on Thursday night.
Forte dazzled by drilling in 27 points, but Smith retaliated by firing in a career-high 30.
However, Forte benefited from more support and his Community Christian School varsity boys basketball team clung to the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association 1-A/2-A Coastal Independents Conference lead in a 61-58 thriller against The Oakwood School of Greenville.
Both Forte and Smith insisted they were not dueling one another, although Smith admitted that, when Forte would score, say on a layup, his reaction would be that “I’ve got to get my team back in the game.”
And the Eagles were certainly in the back-and-forth game until Forte swished a pair of free throws with 2.2 seconds remaining for the final margin. Forte then intercepted Oakwood’s desperation inbounds pass.
“I like to play team ball,” Forte reasoned. “I trusted my team. I just let (Smith) do his thing. My team allowed me a lot and I just wanted to come out with a win for them. I played my heart out.”
The Cyclones escaped to 6-1 in the conference and to 12-7 overall. Oakwood departed 4-6 and head coach Kendall Ham said all of his team’s games have been against conference foes.
Forte was complemented by junior Michael Piccolo with 12 points, a career-high 18 rebounds and three blocks. First-half spark Christian McFarland, a junior, netted 13 points.
Oakwood got 10 points from sophomore Khalil Blount and nine from senior Nate Davis.
“I was playing against their whole team,” commented Smith, upbeat following a tough loss. “It happens. We have got to get better from it; we have to work on the little things. We could have played a little better, but we had a lot of foul trouble. We could have played better defense.
“(Forte) is a good player; he’s fast. We were trying to force him into the gap and cut him off; but he was in the lane all night.”
The Cyclones stared at a 46-40 deficit at the outset of the fourth quarter — that was promptly erased by a 3-pointer and three-point play from Forte, who scored his team’s first eight points in the quarter. Forte’s drive and his assist to Piccolo staked CCS to a 51-48 lead and forced an Oakwood time-out with 4 minutes, 32 seconds remaining.
A field goal each from Piccolo and Noah Moran helped CCS build a 55-50 edge. McFarland’s only second-half bucket left the Cyclones ahead 57-53.
After a field goal from Oakwood’s Blount, Forte, after missing four consecutive free throws, rattled in a pair for a 59-55 CCS cushion with 26.2 seconds showing. But Smith answered with a 3-pointer with 17.5 seconds left and the Eagles trailed 59-58.
CCS turned the ball over on the inbounds play. Smith worked the ball around but, instead of taking the shot, he passed to senior Nate Davis. Davis’ shot was partially blocked by CCS freshman Eli Eger.
“I made a good pass to my teammate,” Smith explained. “He was wide open and I had confidence he would knock it down. He had a better look than I did.”
The teams battled to a 16-16 standoff after one quarter and Smith and sophomore Mohammad Ali gunned the Eagles to their biggest lead of 27-20 in the second quarter. However, the Cyclones rallied behind the 3-point bombing of McFarland and Eger, reclaiming the lead on Eger’s 3-pointer and salvaging a 31-29 halftime lead.
Then, the Forte-Smith shootout became even more entertaining.
“What we wanted to do didn’t go as planned,” Forte admitted, “and we had to fight it out.”
Davis 9, J. Hunt 6, Smith 30, Ali 3, Blount 10, D. Hunt, Noe.
COMMUNITY CHRISTIAN (61)
Forte 27, McFarland 13, Piccolo 12, Eger 7, Manning, Lane, Moran 2, Fate.
Score by quarters:
Oakwood 16 13 15 44 — 58
CCS 16 15 9 21 — 61