MATTHEWS Independence and Ardrey Kell took decidedly different routes to the Southwestern 4A basketball final.
The top-seeded Patriots pulled away from Myers Park in the second half for a 71-56 semifinal win at Butler High while the No. 2 seeded Knights withstood a late East Mecklenburg rally for a 67-58 victory. Ardrey Kell, which swept Independence in a pair of regular-season series, will try for a third on Friday.
“It’ll be a tough game no matter who we play,” Knights coach Mike Craft said. “We’re very happy to be there. It’s a lot of hard work. We’ve got a great group of guys.”
Ardrey Kell (22-4) scored 10 of the first 12 points and never trailed, rolling up a 22-point lead in the first half before East Mecklenburg (11-13) rallied in the fourth quarter. Four Knights scored in double figures with Steven Santa-Ana leading the way with 20 points, including 12 in the second half. Tate Small added 14 points and Preston Trout and Michael Barcliff chipped in 10 each.
“I think the first half was maybe the best we played as far as finding the open man, being unselfish and then finishing,” Craft said. “It’s one thing to get a shot and not finish, but we were getting shots and finishing. Hopefully, we’re hitting our stride. It’s a great time to be doing it.”
Tryle Poindexter paced East Mecklenburg with 16 points, including 13 after the break. Jerrin Morrison scored eight of his 14 points after intermission.
There was less drama after halftime for Independence, which led 32-30 on Marcus Graves’ 3-pointer at the buzzer and then pulled ahead in the third quarter. The Patriots’ pressure defense harassed Myers Park into errors that Independence quickly turned into transition opportunities.
“(Graves’ 3-pointer) was a big play,” Independence coach Preston Davis said. “Definitely a momentum-changer, but when you’re playing against your conference foes and it’s the third time around, everybody’s tough.”
Graves and Deion Lane each scored a game-high 19 for Independence, while Tayon Gleaves added 16, including a 35-foot heave at the end of the third quarter to give the Patriots a 59-47 bulge. Major Thomas was the only Myers Park player to reach double-digits with 17 points.
Ardrey Kell led 35-17 at intermission, but East Mecklenburg didn’t fall apart. The Eagles rallied within 62-57 on Poindexter’s 3-pointer from the corner with 39.5 seconds left but that was as close as the Eagles would get. Ardrey Kell, which nailed 11 of 17 free throws in the fourth quarter, converted 5 of 6 in the final half-minute to maintain its advantage. East went 6 of 12 in the quarter.
“They don’t quit,” Craft said.