GREENSBORO The Cuthbertson boys had been thinking about this moment for nearly a year. A year minus one day, to be exact.
“Tomorrow will be the 365th day from last year’s state championship,” said senior Isiah Cureton. “We’ve been thinking about it ever since then.”
Last March 10 the Cavaliers lost by three points to Kinston in the 2A state basketball title game.
Saturday, they beat Shelby 55-48 in the 2A West Region championship at Greensboro Coliseum to advance to the state title game again.
“We knew we had a shot at this and it’s been a goal since March 10 last year in that losing locker room at N.C. State,” said Cuthbertson coach Mike Helms.
Cuthbertson (29-3) also beat Shelby (27-4) last year to win the regional. The Cavaliers will play in the state championship game March 16 in Chapel Hill.
It was a game of runs between the two teams, especially in the first half.
The Golden Lions started the game on a 9-2 run. Cuthbertson answered that with a 11-0 run to take a 13-9 lead at the end of the first.
Shelby had a 10-4 run to start the second and take a 19-17 lead midway through the quarter. The Cavaliers answered that with a 9-0 run to take a 26-19 lead late in the second.
Shelby had the last advantage of the half, outscoring Cuthbertson 6-0 in the final minutes.
Cuthbertson led 26-25 at half.
The Cavaliers surprised Shelby coach Aubrey Hollifield by settling back into a zone defense early in the game.
“The zone (bothered) us a little bit,” he said. “Even though we’ve seen zone all year long, you know, in this type of atmosphere it (bothers) you a little bit. You’re expecting one thing and then all of a sudden they come out with something totally different.”
Shelby struggled to shoot over the zone, hitting 37.7 percent of its shots and only making three 3-pointers.
More of the runs went Cuthbertson’s way in the second half. The Cavaliers outscored Shelby 13-7 in the third quarter to lead 39-32 going into the fourth.
Early in the fourth quarter, Shelby cut the Cuthbertson lead to three at 42-39. From there Cuthbertson outscored Shelby 9-0 to lead 51-39.
“In a lot of big games, there’s usually a lot of runs,” said Shelby junior Gabe DeVoe. “We usually weather the run. This time, the last run we couldn’t get anything going.”
Shelby managed to limit Wake Forest recruit Shelton Mitchell to eight points in the game, but senior Emmitt Afam, the tournament MVP, scored 17 points to lead Cuthbertson.
Cureton finished the game with 10 points and nine rebounds for the Cavaliers.
DeVoe and senior Chris Wray had 14 points each for Shelby. Senior Donte Falls had 11 points and 9 rebounds for the Golden Lions.
Helms said he was proud of the play of his nine seniors, eight of whom have been at the school since it opened four years ago.
“It’s huge for this group of seniors,” he said. “For them to do this back to back years going out, that’s quite an accomplishment and I hope they realize what they have accomplished.”