Saturday morning, hours before Carmel Christian would play Gaston Day for a state championship in boys’ basketball, Donovan Gregory made his father, Jerome, a promise.
Gregory, who started his career at Northside Christian, had lost in the championship round as a freshman at Northside and as a sophomore at Carmel Christian.
He wasn’t having it anymore.
Despite missing most all of the second quarter with foul trouble and playing through two separate right ankle injuries in the second half, Gregory delivered on his promise in a 74-72 double-overtime win over Gaston Day.
“I told my dad we were winning the championship,” Gregory said. “I lost in the state championship the past few years and I couldn’t let it happen again. It’s heartbreaking, that feeling never leaves you. It’s just stuck with you. Today I was thinking about (that feeling) and it made me play harder.”
Gregory finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and two assists. And he had plenty of help.
On Friday, Cougars starter Marten Maide injured his ankle and couldn’t play in the finals. Sophomore Ford Cooper vaulted into the starting lineup and came up big. After his team rallied from a 41-29 deficit in the third quarter, Cooper produced his best basketball. He scored five straight points to give his team a 72-70 lead with 1 minute, 45 seconds left to play.
Cooper finished with 13 points, nine assists and four rebounds.
And after Gaston Day tied the game at 72 with 37.1 seconds left, junior Myles Pierre held the ball on the left side, near midcourt, and waited to make his move.
With 10 seconds left, he drove right. With eight, he let go of a potential championship-winning shot that he had to lean back and shoot about as far away from his body as he could muster -- almost shooting a hook shot while intending to shoot a layup.
The shot banked in. Pierre finished with 28 points, seven rebounds, six steals, five assists -- and Carmel got to have one major midcourt celebration.
“They fought back in the third quarter,” Carmel Christian coach Byron Dinkins, “and then they made plays. It was a great run.”
Gaston Day (27-4) got 24 points, eight rebounds and four assists from Houston recruit Nate Hinton. Unsigned senior MJ Armstrong had 17 points, five rebounds and two blocks. College of Charleston signee Quan McCluney finished with 11 points and eight rebounds.
But at times the Spartans seemed to be in a rush to pull away from Carmel, thrusting up difficult one-on-one shots that created long rebounds and gave Carmel easy transition buckets -- and a way back in the game.
After leading by 12, Gaston Day finished the game making just 14-of-38 shots and committing 11 turnovers.
That opened the door for Carmel’s big rally, and opened the door for Gregory to make good on his promise.
“Man,” he said, “this feels so good. We’re state champions.”
And no one can take it away from them.
CARMEL CHRISTIAN 74 GASTON DAY 72
Carmel Christian 15 12 20 17 2 10 -- 74
Gaston Day 15 22 14 13 2 8 -- 72
CARMEL 74 - Myles Pierre 28, Donovan Gregory 19, Ford Cooper 13, Murphy 4, McDonald 6, Price 2
GASTON DAY 72 - Nate Hinton 24, MJ Armstrong 17, Quan McCluney 11, Demi Adelekun 10, Crump 7, Belton 3