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Charlotte, N.C. – Before meeting in South Charlotte Tuesday night, the basketball programs of Greensboro Day (9-0) and Providence Day (5-2) had accounted for the last three state championships in the NCISAA 3A Division.
Providence Day senior Devon Dotson (Kansas signee) posted a game-high 18 points, but the balanced attack of Greensboro Day proved to be too much as the Bengals prevailed with a 53-51 victory. Junior Mike Flower led Greensboro Day in scoring with 12 points.
Tuesday’s contest also marked the first game back for Greensboro Day head coach Freddy Johnson since gaining his 1,000th career win last week. Prior to tip-off, Providence Day head coach Brian Field stood at midcourt to address the attending fans, in order to congratulate the legendary head coach on his his incredible 41-year tenure.
However after the pleasantries were exchanged in the pregame, there was no love lost between these two state-title contenders. The anticipation was evident from the outset, and as the game would wear on, the intensity would only grow.
“This is my first time playing Providence Day and I could just tell the rivalry that we have,” said Fowler. “Stakes were high and we [knew] that this [could] have a big impact in February when it’s time for the state tournament.”
The Bengals jumped out to an early 14-6 lead, but Providence Day roared back with a 7-0 run to close the first quarter of play. Senior guard Trey Wertz (Santa Clara signee) connected on two attempts from long distance as the Chargers trailed 14-13 at the end of the first.
Despite an already undersized starting five, Field chose to go even smaller in the second quarter, as the 6’5 Wertz stood alone as the tallest player on the floor for Providence Day. Guard Isaac Suffren shined during this sequence, as the unsigned senior posted 13 points in the game.
Lingering tensions reached their boiling point in the third quarter. With two minutes remaining in the period, Greensboro Day senior John Newman (Clemson signee) made a strong drive to the basket and was fouled hard on the left block. Tensions continued to flare as the injured 6’5 guard exchanged words with Dotson on the way back to the bench.
Just moments later, Suffren drove to the basket and drew a foul on 6’3 senior Will Dillard (Georgia Southern signee). The animated Suffren got in the face of Dillard after the whistle and was issued a technical foul.
With the score locked at 41 at the start of the fourth period, the Bengals relied on some stellar defense with Newman still on the bench, with what appeared to be an apparent head injury. Trailing by just two points, Greensboro Day forced Dotson into two costly turnovers that helped the Bengals put together a 6-0 run and a 52-48 lead with 2:45 remaining.
However, several missed free throws in the closing minutes nearly cost Greensboro Day the game. The first critical miss came on the front end of a one-and-one, after a Dotson three-pointer cut the Bengal lead to 52-51 with 43.7 seconds remaining.
After a Providence Day timeout, Dotson looked to take advantage of Greensboro Day’s mistake. The talented Kansas recruit began to attack on the right wing before creating space with a behind the back dribble at the right elbow. The driving Dotson elevated and was challenged at the rim before missing a lefty lay-in that would have given Providence Day the advantage.
“[We] tried to stop [Dotson] from getting to the basket because he’s the best guard I’ve seen in the country at getting to the basket,” said Johnson. “We talk about that all the time. My kids have a great deal of respect for him.”
Greensboro Day would commit another critical mistake, as they failed to ice the game at the free throw line with under 30 seconds to go. The Bengals had four chances at the charity stripe on the ensuing possession, as a result of Fowler’s rebound off another missed free throw by Inge. Greensboro Day made only one attempt on four tries which kept the game within one possession with 14 seconds to go.
On the decisive final play, Wertz drew a double-team at the top of the key and found an open Suffren on the right wing. Suffren squared up from downtown with a chance to win the game at the buzzer, but the attempt rimmed out as Greensboro Day would escape with a fortunate 53-51 victory.
“It felt like a state playoff game,” said Johnson. “I just think that it was a really well played high school basketball game and I think both teams played hard. It might not have been pretty, but it was a win.”
Greensboro Day will return to action on Friday for a home game against Charlotte Country Day. As for Providence Day, the Chargers will have the privilege of travelling to China to compete in the inaugural US/China Basketball Spectacular from Dec. 2-10.