This weekend’s Charlotte Hoops Challenge was a basketball showcase event for a number of teams that helped pack the Rocky River High gym. But it was an educational experience for South Mecklenburg and Concord, who played one of the feature games Saturday night.
Two of the more successful programs in recent years, the Sabres and Spiders are battling to overcome the loss of experienced players off winning teams from a year ago.
“We have a lot of talent, but we’re inexperienced,” South Meck coach John Fitch said after his team outlasted Concord 67-57. “But I’d say we’re on schedule for where I hoped we’d be.”
It’s the same story with Concord coach Jason Stowe, whose team fell far behind in the early going but closed to within a basket several times in the second half.
Never miss a local story.
South Meck finished third in the SoMeck 8 4A last season and advanced to the second round of the playoffs. But the only returning starter is 6-8 senior Bryant Thomas, who looked the part of a veteran Saturday, scoring a game-high 22 points and grabbing five rebounds.
“We’ve got a tough early schedule, and I want to make sure it doesn’t overwhelm our kids,” said Fitch, whose team improved to 1-2. “But they’ve got the ability to do some really good things.”
Paul Hudson, a sophomore forward, scored 16 points and hit five of eight crucial free throws in the fourth quarter, when the Spiders made several surges. Sophomore forward Kevin Tate scored only one point but was scrambling all over the floor in the final minutes, batting away passes and making other defensive plays.
“Paul Hudson is only 15, and he had a really big game,” Fitch said. “And Kevin Tate did a great job of doing things that helped us but don’t show up in the boxscore.”
For Concord, the rebuilding job facing Stowe is equally daunting. His team went 23-5 last year, but point guard Rechon Black, a UNC commit, transferred to Montverde Academy in Florida. Three other starters were seniors and are gone.
But in their opener, the Spiders showed heart, rallying from an early 16-5 deficit by rebounding well and throwing their bodies around the floor, chasing for loose balls.
A week ago, Jacob Irby was quarterbacking the Spider football team. Saturday night, he scored seven points and gave Concord inside strength despite running into foul trouble. And teammate Hamsah Nasirildeen, another football star, led the team with 16 points and eight rebounds.
3 who mattered
Bryant Thomas: South Mecklenburg’s 6-8 senior center scored a game-high 22 points, including 10 of his team’s 25 fourth-quarter points.
Paul Hudson: A 6-5 sophomore guard for the Sabres, he scored 16 points and grabbed seven rebounds.
Hamsah Nasirildeen: Concord’s 6-5 senior forward led the team with 16 points and eight rebounds. He scored 11 of Concord’s 13 points in the second quarter, when the Spiders clawed their way back into the game.
▪ South Mecklenburg coach John Fitch said his team was hurt by turnovers in losses last week to Rocky River and Independence. The Sabres had only one turnover in the crucial fourth quarter Saturday night.
▪ Sabre junior point guard Trey Jackson picked up his fourth personal foul late in the third quarter and went to the bench. He returned with 2:32 left in the game, and South ahead 58-54. The Sabres outscored Concord 9-3 the rest of the way.
▪ Jordan Rotan gives Concord serious long-range shooting ability. Rotan, a 6-1 guard, made three of four three-point field goal attempts but was hurt by foul trouble.