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Not even three minutes had elapsed in Saturday’s North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association 1-A quarterfinal before the top-seeded Greenfield School varsity boys basketball team learned that it would not have a wire-to-wire, leisurely stroll into next weekend’s semifinals.
At the outset, the Knights were sloppy offensively, leading to a spate of turnovers and a quick 10-2 lead for unseeded Henderson Crossroads Christian.
Greenfield head coach Rob Salter motioned for a 30-second timeout. Schematic adjustments had no place during the brief stoppage.
“Welcome to the state quarterfinals,” Salter told his group.
The Colts, playing in front of an enthusiastic traveling crowd, had to deal with a more efficient Greenfield offense following the timeout. The Knights ended the opening quarter up by seven, but the Knights’ lack of first-half defense only left it with a 50-45 at the half.
But in the second half, Greenfield opened on a 21-9 run, and the Knights forced Crossroads into 27 total turnovers en route to a 101-87 victory.
Greenfield, which reached its season-high point total, improved to 31-4 with its 21st straight victory. The 2004-05 and 2005-06 teams each won 31 games, including 22 straight to end the season, on their way to state championships. The Knights, in search of their fifth state crown and first since 2006, face No. 5 seed Charlotte Victory Christian on Friday at 5 p.m. on the campus of North Raleigh Christian Academy in the semifinals. Crossroads of the Mid-Carolina Conference, had its season ended at 16-11. The other semifinal pits No. 2 Fayetteville Trinity Christian against No. 3 Fayetteville Northwood Temple, with the championship set for Saturday at 2.
The game was a rematch of the Greenfield Christmas Tournament, where the Knights were again tested in a 83-78 decision to open the event.
“They hit us right in the face and they outplayed us — they outscrapped us in the first half,” Greenfield head coach Rob Salter said. “I told the coach (Scottie Richardson) I love their team. I love the heart of that team. We got hit in the face and took a step back and then we started playing after the first two minutes of the game. Offensively, I thought we could get what we wanted to, but I wasn’t happy with how we played defensively.”
Six players finished in double figures for Greenfield, led by junior Creighton Lebo’s 25 points. Greenfield’s junior parade, which includes Jacari Outlaw, Dji Bailey and Collin Guilford had 19, 16 and 13 points respectively. A fifth junior, Trey Pittman, had 11 and the team’s lone senior, Bryson Baker, tallied 10 points.
Trailing 16-13 in the opening quarter, the Knights went on a 13-3 run, culminating on Lebo’s 3-pointer at the buzzer.
The Knights tried to pull away before halftime, stretching their lead to nine on a Lebo putback, a 3-pointer by Baker and a Baker layup in transition. However, Crossroads didn’t go away before halftime, using a putback from Thomas Townes to go into halftime trailing only 50-45.
“The first half, we were playing sloppy,” Guilford said. “The second half, we started playing more how we’re used to playing and playing harder, stronger, faster. And we got the lead.”
Salter challenged his backcourt at halftime, particularly Guilford, a first-year Greenfield player. Guilford responded with 11 of his 13 points in the third-quarter and timely hustle plays on defense as the Knights boosted their lead to as many as 24 on three different occasions.
“He had to,” Salter said of Guilford’s resurgence. “Because he couldn’t play much worse than he did in the first half. But I challenged him. He’s just so quick, and he gets the ball in his hands, there’s nobody faster than he is. He’s been playing terrific for us in the last 15 games, and I needed that Collin. He came alive in the second half.”
Takeaways fueled Greenfield’s runaway in the second half. Guilford and Bailey thrived as a result, converting the turnovers into easy baskets.
“We thought we had the speed and athleticism on the bottom half of their zone,” Salter said. “So we attacked baseline a lot on the bottom half, and they got in foul trouble. I thought we did a good job of finding the mismatches on their zone, and we finally made some plays.”
Four players finished in double figures for Crossroads, led by Taylor Bell’s 26 points. Cade Carlson had 23. Markel Lloyd and Townes each had 17.
Greenfield enjoyed a 39-23 advantage in rebounding, with Bailey, Pittman and Outlaw each snagging eight boards. Lebo had seven and Guilford had five as the Knights collectively hit the backboards.
“Basketball 101 is you have to rebound the basketball, and you cannot turn it over,” Crossroads’ Richardson said. “And unfortunately, those things bit us tonight.”
Now, Greenfield must depart its home gym for a championship environment on a neutral floor. But Salter contends Greenfield plays in marquee events during the year for these exact moments.
“That’s why we do these events all year,” he said. “We’ve been in some pretty big time events and atmospheres, and that’s why we do it. To get you prepared for this weekend. Our guys have been there. Hopefully our experience with Bryson and Dji and Trey and Jacari, they’re going to step up and lead.”
CROSSROADS CHR. (87)
Adcock, Bell 26, Page, Carlson 23, Woodard, Boyd, Fulk, Shah, Brantley, Overby 2, Lloyd 17, Townes 17, Pendergrass.
Guilford 13, Lebo 25, Pittman 11, Bailey 16, Outlaw 19, Baker 10, Lynch 7, Foster, Holland, Sessoms, Woodard.
Score by quarters:
Crossroads Chr. 19 26 18 24 — 87
Greenfield 26 24 33 18 — 101