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What is typically a modest six- to seven-player rotation for the senior-laden Greenfield School varsity boys basketball team found its preferred structure besieged with fouls in the closing moments of Saturday’s 82-75 quarterfinals win against Cape Fear Christian in the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association 1-A playoffs.
Greenfield, the reigning NCISAA 1-A champions and the No. 2 seed, built a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter and via senior Creighton Lebo, unleashed a torrential assault from 3-point range in the third quarter that threatened to deck the Eagles early and send Greenfield to its fourth consecutive semifinal appearance.
But foul trouble claimed senior point guard Dji Bailey and eighth grader Hampton Evans 44 seconds apart, leaving it to Greenfield to find alternate sources of production with the season on the line.
In part, sophomore K.J. Peten delivered.
Peten caused a jump ball, emerged from a scrum with a loose ball and helped Greenfield secure matters from the foul line in what turned into a tense final minute as Greenfield escaped the No. 7-seeded Eagles.
The Knights claimed their 29th victory against six losses and advanced to play No. 3 seed The Burlington School on Friday in the semifinals at Matthews Covenant Day School. Should Greenfield win there, it would face the winner of the all-Fayetteville semifinal between No. 1 Trinity Christian and No. 4 Northwood Temple on Saturday at Charlotte Country Day.
Cape Fear Christian had its year ended at 15-13.
“I didn’t feel like we played our best, especially on the defensive end,” Greenfield head coach Rob Salter said. “But give Cape Fear credit. They kept on coming at us. We did make some winning plays. I challenged some of my seniors at halftime, and they stepped up.”
Greenfield, which doesn’t lack for long-range shooting at any spot on the floor, blistered the nets for 13 3-pointers with its spacing and the ability to find open shooters. The Knights held a slim 36-32 halftime lead before Lebo, who had five points in the first half, suddenly came to life in the third quarter.
He knocked down five efforts from beyond the arc in the third quarter alone, continuing to find open looks despite success. His final 3-pointer of the quarter, which boosted Greenfield to a 59-50 advantage, prompted a Cape Fear timeout and an animated visiting huddle on the bench.
“I give credit to my teammates and my coach putting me in spots,” Lebo said. “I think I move without the ball well; I’ve been taught different ways to get open — how to come off the screens and just little ways to get open. Definitely credit to my teammates and coaches for finding me.”
However, Lebo’s third-quarter display on its own wasn’t enough to keep Cape Fear down. The Eagles moved to within a single possession at 70-67 on a three-point play from Jeremiah McWilliams that resulted in Bailey’s fourth personal foul with 3:16 left. Bailey, who has signed with Wake Forest, replied by getting a rebound and sticking it back in to start a three-point play of his own. But with Greenfield leading 73-69, Bailey was whistled for his fifth foul on rebounding action underneath the Greenfield basket.
Evans picked up his fifth foul at the 1:40 mark, and a pair of McWilliams free throws chopped the Knights’ lead to four at 75-71.
Cape Fear attempted to pull closer on Greg Moneymaker’s floater above the foul line, but it missed and Pittman grabbed the rebound.
Following a McWilliams hook shot to make it 77-73, the Eagles attempted to trap. But Lebo got behind the pressure and supplied a layup to give Greenfield a six-point lead.
The bench took over from there defensively. Peten tied up Cape Fear and forced the usage of the possession arrow. Once the ball was inbounded, Cape Fear lost control deep in the paint and the ball squirted free. Peten emerged with it and sank both free throws to help ice it.
“I’ve got to give credit to our bench,” Salter said. “Dji got in foul trouble, Hampton fouled out. I thought K.J. Peten made some winning plays tonight, too. I’m very proud of all of them.”
Lebo led all scorers with 25 points. Senior Collin Guilford, who made a trio of 3-pointers in the first quarter, had 21 and provided a first-half lift on defense. Pittman, also contributing from long range, had 11 points and senior Jordan Lynch had 10.
McWilliams and Austin Locklear led the Eagles with 18 points each.
Lebo, who transferred from Greenville Rose prior to his junior year, now has a chance to make it two state titles in two years with just two more victories.
“It’s going to take a lot of focus,” he said. “We know we have to prepare well. We’ve got two good teams coming up, so we’ve just got to prepare and hopefully, we can come home with a state championship.”
CAPE FEAR CHR. (75)
McWilliams 18, Moneymaker 11, Locklear 18, Carter 18, P. Tako, S. Tako 8, Miles 2.
Lebo 25, Guilford 21, Lynch 10, Bailey 7, Pittman 11, Holland 3, Paten 5.
Score by quarters:
Cape Fear Chr. 17 15 20 23 — 75
Greenfield 21 15 24 22 — 82