GREENSBORO With 3.4 seconds left in the school’s first N.C. 3A Western Regional game, Harding High basketball coach Walter Aikens took out his regular players and his coaching staff stood up and gave them an emotional standing ovation.
The Rams went on to lose 70-52 to a more athletic Statesville in a game that was closer than the score. After it was over, Aikens walked off the court slowly. His head was down, and he was stroking his beard, which is speckled with gray.
He had to be thinking a thousand thoughts.
He had a brilliant, if not obvious, game plan: Statesville is a small quick team that slashes to the basket. All game long, Statesville coach Sonny Schofield screamed at his team, “Layup! Layup!” He didn’t want the Greyhounds shooting jump shots, because it’s not what they excel at doing.
Aikens yelled at his team to back up, to give Statesville the jumper. And it was working, too. Harding was hitting shots and kept a little lead, and you could see where the Rams could win the game if they kept it up.
Then, they stopped making shots.
Harding had 25 points with 4 minutes, 18 seconds left in the first half.
Harding had 25 points with 21 seconds left in the first half.
In the third quarter, it took Harding 6 minutes to score a field goal.
All those shots the Rams had hit in a true Cinderella run to the regionals – beating Southern Carolina conference champ Marvin Ridge and state power Concord – simply wouldn’t fall. Harding shot 27 percent in the second half and 34.6 percent for the game. And so, the Rams, who were 13-10 when the playoffs started, ended the season with a 16-11 record, plus a lot of good memories.
“It was a great run,” Aikens said. “And I thought we had a chance tonight. Even when they got the lead, I still thought we had it under control. They made their run, and I figured we would make a run later on. Unfortunately, we had some tough calls that didn’t go our way that really changed the momentum of the game.”
Harding was called for 22 fouls to Statesville’s 11. There was some key charge calls that went against Harding and blocks that went for Statesville, but more than that, it was those shots.
Harding kept getting good looks at the basket and kept missing.
“It’s not as disappointing for me as it is for the kids,” Aikens said. “They wanted it. I wanted it as well, but I’m proud of what these young men have done. All year, they’ve battled through the turmoil, and they caught fire at the right time. We just came up against a team that was tough and ready. We were ready, too, but they outplayed us tonight.”
Wertz: 704-612-9716; twitter: @langstonwertzjr
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