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Community Christian School’s reward for channeling its inner Kill Devil Hills First Flight was a one-way ticket out of the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association 1-A playoffs Tuesday night.
In their best imitation of the coastal run-and-gun Nighthawks, the Cyclones knocked down 14 3-pointers against Pantego Terra Ceia at Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf’s Williamson Gym.
But that commitment to the perimeter came at a cost, as the Cyclones’ wanton disregard for getting the ball into the paint resulted in just one free-throw attempt all night, and the Knights’ crisp ball movement enabled them to secure a 69-58 victory.
CCS, an unseeded team of the 1-A/2-A Coastal Independents Conference, finished its season with a 14-12 record. Terra Ceia, affiliated with the Tarheel Conference, improved to 15-8 and will visit No. 3 Fayetteville Northwood Temple in the second round.
First-year CCS head coach Kenneth Atkinson attributed the mysterious performance from CCS to injury and illness. Junior Jimmy Forte, who had 24 points but was mostly absent off the dribble, played through a knee injury. Michael Piccolo, a 6-foot-5 junior forward, didn’t play due to the flu, and Atkinson decreed that at least two additional ball handlers were afflicted by sickness.
Freshman Eric Wynn, at 6-8, finished with just six points and didn’t play in the fourth quarter. With the Cyclones trailing 30-25 at halftime, Wynn attacked the rim for a pair of layups to pull CCS within a single possession at 32-29. In the interim, getting to the paint caused the first foul to be whistled against Terra Ceia — only after 17:30 of game time had elapsed. But that action at the rim was the exception rather than the rule, and a frustrated Wynn spent the fourth quarter on the bench of first-year head coach Kenneth Atkinson. The Knights were 13 of 18 from the floor, while CCS, through its incessant outside play, shot one recorded free throw. The other attempt was wiped away on a lane violation.
Terra Ceia, a program that has gone 99-24 over the last five seasons, presented with no seniors and zero players currently drawing the eye of collegiate programs.
“Piccolo was missing completely,” Atkinson said. “That was one of my big men, and my other big man got frustrated and in foul trouble. Well, not foul trouble, but he just got frustrated.”
Such an order of events played right into the hands of Terra Ceia and veteran head coach Roger Claassen. Forte and friends would be allowed to shoot from the perimeter, and the Knights were content with the results. CCS junior Christian McFarland took advantage of the Cyclones’ long-distance barrage, making seven of the team’s 3-pointers in the loss. Forte added six and freshman Eli Eger had the other.
“We just knew who we had to stop and it was about not giving up the penetration inside,” Claassen said. “Knowing where the shooters were and the big guy was. It’s about keeping the ball in front. We’ve had a tendency to foul, so this felt really good. These kids are young. I have no seniors, and it’s just been a building-block process.”
A disturbing trend developed as early as the first quarter for CCS. While the Cyclones settled into their perimeter frenzy, Terra Ceia junior Alex Van Staalduinen began working the inside for second-chance opportunities. On his way to a double-double, Van Staalduinen posted six rebounds in the first quarter en route to a team-high 23 points. His work inside boosted the visitors to a 14-10 lead after one quarter, and as the Cyclones trailed 30-25 at the half, they were outpaced 18-4 in the paint.
CCS loses two seniors in Noah Moran and Tyrik Fate.
“Everybody’s going to look and say, how do you lose this game?” Atkinson said. “But it’s kind of hard when you have the team you have, but at the same time, only running on three wheels.”
TERRA CEIA (69)
Couch 21, Bowen, Edwards 6, M. Van Staalduinen 15, Bunch 4, A. Van Staalduinen 23.
Fate, Eger 3, McFarland 23, Wynn 6, Manning 2, Forte 24.
Score by quarters:
Terra Ceia 14 16 10 29 — 69
CCS 10 15 11 22 — 58