02/11/12 — Ayden-Grifton boys deny Goldsboro's upset bid

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Ayden-Grifton boys deny Goldsboro's upset bid

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on February 11, 2012 11:07 PM

Goldsboro had its chances.

Ayden-Grifton created its own fortune.

Brandon Whitaker drained the game-winning basket with 8 seconds remaining, and the Chargers escaped Norvell T. Lee Gymnasium with a 56-55 victory in the Carolina 1-A Conference regular-season finale for both teams Friday evening.

Title contenders just 21/2 weeks ago, the Cougars (13-10 overall, 5-5 CC) collected the No. 4 seed and face fifth-seeded Spring Creek in opening-round play of next week's conference tournament. The teams tip off Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Rosewood.

Ayden-Grifton (15-6, 8-2) secured its first league championship outright since 2008 and drew a first-round bye for the conference tournament. The top-seeded Chargers will see either the Cougars or Gators on Thursday at Rosewood.

Goldsboro controlled the tempo from the opening tap and quickly involved center Damarian Henderson in the offense during the first quarter. Henderson scored nine of his 16 points in that stretch, but hardly touched the ball in the second and third periods.

Quavus Holloman and Moses Ramsey each drained a 3-pointer in the second quarter as the Cougars built an 11-point cushion, 30-19, at halftime.

But that advantage slowly deflated.

Ayden-Grifton sped the game up in the third period and shot a blistering 67 percent (10 of 15) from the floor. Rondell Bell's 3-pointer in transition off Deshaun Payton's assist gave the Chargers a 39-38 lead with 1:39 left in the period.

"The third quarter killed us," said GHS head coach Patrick Reynell. "They're a jump-shooting team and they're a methodically-offensive team ... working the ball and popping (the shooters) off screens. You have to give credit to Ayden-Grifton.

"They did what they do and they did it well."

The Cougars refused to let the Chargers build more than a two-possession advantage in the final eight minutes. Jalen Sprueil's 3-pointer closed the gap to 52-51 and Henderson just missed converting a three-point play, which would have created a 54-54 deadlock in the final two minutes.

After a frenzy of activity at both ends of the court, Henderson's offensive putback pushed Goldsboro ahead 55-54 and a near-capacity crowd roared its approval. However, the Cougars couldn't close out the Chargers and missed back-to-back front ends of one-and-one opportunities.

"You've got to hit free throws down the stretch and the ones that get magnified are the ones at the end," said Reynell.

Goldsboro had one last chance after Whitaker's basket. Holloman took the inbounds pass and dribbled upcourt as time ticked away. He stepped inside the 3-point arc and fired a shot that glanced off the rim.

The Cougars got the rebound, but the Chargers knocked the ball out of bounds as time expired.

"I was proud of my guys for the way they didn't panic," said Reynell. "We've taken a lot of runs the past several games and this is the first one where we finally came back, didn't give up defensively."