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Second-half starts have been a slippery slope for the Greenfield School varsity boys basketball team this season.
Another crossroads awaited the Knights in the quarterfinal round of the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association 1-A playoffs Saturday afternoon against Charlotte Victory Christian.
Leading the Kings by 14 at halftime, a run would either result in a tight game or a knockout blow for Greenfield.
From a number of sources that weren’t limited to the usual suspects, the Knights took the opportunity to remove any doubt.
Sophomores Dji Bailey and Trey Pittman each knocked down 3-pointers, and senior Elijah McCadden laid in a feed from junior Bryson Baker as part of an 8-0 run in 78 seconds that lifted the Knights to a runaway 72-43 victory.
“When it’s a game like that, the first three minutes are so important,” Greenfield head coach Rob Salter said. “Because you can either push it up, or they can make it a game. We emphasized that, and we haven’t been good all year. But we came out and shared the ball. We were patient, we ran a set and if it wasn’t there, we reset it and we made the extra pass. And we probably had the best three minutes out of the half all year for us.”
That sequence, for all intents and purposes, elevated Greenfield (23-9), the No. 2 seed, into its 10th appearance in the NCISAA 1-A semifinals in the last 11 years. Victory Christian, the No. 9 seed and representatives from the Southern Piedmont Conference, had its season ended at 21-13. The Knights will play No. 3 seed The Burlington School in the state semifinals set for Friday at 6:30 p.m. on the campus of Winston-Salem Calvary Day.
Greenfield’s initial 8-0 spurt that forced a Kings timeout was part of a 12-2 run to open the second half. Baker’s steal and layup off a turnover, coupled with senior guard Coby White’s transition layup gave the Knights a comfortable 46-22 advantage.
White, a McDonald’s All-American who has committed to the University of North Carolina, finished with a double-double of 30 points and 12 rebounds to give him 1,001 points for his senior season. Baker had 15 points, making a trio of 3-pointers. His trey to beat the third-quarter buzzer sent Greenfield into the fourth quarter with a commanding 64-35 lead.
“(Salter) told me to get in the gym and work on my shot a little bit, because I’ve been in a slump for about three games,” Baker said. “So earlier today, I got some shots up and I was just feeling it. We’ve been struggling third quarters and coming out of halftime, so Salt got on us a little bit and we just came out and passed the ball and got good ball movement.”
Greenfield made 25 of 58 shots for 43.1 percent accuracy against a Victory Christian defense that came out and defended in man-to-man. The Kings, committed to a physical brand of basketball, outrebounded the Knights 49-32, including a 23-5 disparity on the offensive backboards. However, Victory Christian could not turn the extra chances underneath into points, shooting just 20 of 66 for 30.3 percent. Greenfield held the Kings to a 2-of-18 display from behind the 3-point line, as compared to 10 of 22 for the Knights. White led the way with four, with Bailey, Baker and Pittman each canning a pair.
“We missed a lot of easy opportunities,” Victory Christian head coach Marcus Dilligard said. We were still up one (6-5) early in the first quarter. After the first quarter, it was 17-6 (actually 15), with seven missed layups. And then to come out already down to a team that likes to run, it makes it tough.”
Indeed, Greenfield responded to the final Victory Christian lead with a 10-0 surge to end the opening quarter. Pittman and Baker each had 3s during the run, and White sped past the Kings’ defense for a pair of layups.
Greenfield expanded the margin in the second quarter behind eight second-quarter points from White. Leading 32-16, Pittman’s block on the defensive end led to a runout, where White fed senior Elijah McCadden for a crowd-pleasing alley-oop slam. McCadden, on his way to Georgia Southern, finished with nine points and seven rebounds.
Nasan Ayala, who drew the defensive assignment of guarding White in Victory Christian’s man-to-man, led the Kings with 17 points.
The Knights raised the lead to as much as 31 early in the fourth quarter before Greenfield turned it over to the substitutes with 3:01 remaining. Defensively, Greenfield fetched 13 steals, three each from Pittman and Bailey.
“We are where we’re supposed to be,” Salter said of reaching the NCISAA’s 1-A final four. “We were in this situation last year, and we’ve got to play better. We didn’t play good enough to win last year in the final four, but we’ve just got to find ways to win at this point in the year. This is where we expect to be. We’re here, but now we’ve got to take advantage of our opportunity.”
VICTORY CHRISTIAN (43)
Krebs 2, Ayala 17, Gountopoulos, T. Coleman, Manuel 8, C. Coleman, Gue Jr. 6. Smith 2, Gool 6, Spencer 2.
White 30, Holland, McCadden 9, Bailey 10, Baker 15, Andreasen, Pittman 6, Jones, Foster 2.
Score by quarters:
Victory Christian 6 14 15 8 — 43
Greenfield 15 19 30 8 — 72