About 20 minutes before the tip of the boys’ basketball game Friday night between Hough and North Mecklenburg, school officials outside of the North Meck gym announced they were closing the doors; No one else would be let in.
Fans crammed into the bleachers and stood along the baseline, ready to see a matchup between two teams ranked in the top 10 of the Sweet 16 and tied atop the MECKA standings – with Concord Robinson and West Charlotte.
What the crowd saw was a dominant performance by the No. 3 Vikings, who beat No. 9 Hough 81-56.
“Great, tremendous team effort,” North Meck coach Duane Lewis said. “I mean the crowd was into it, the team was into it and that’s the way we play. We want everyone involved, having fun, taking shots.”
The Vikings (15-1, 5-1) never trailed and had an 18-6 lead after the first quarter. The lead continued to grow throughout the game: 20 at halftime, 25 after the third quarter and as many as 30 in the fourth quarter.
UNC Wilmington recruit C.J. Bryce led all scorers with 30. He was helped by North Meck teammates Taj Middleton and Derrick Maxwell, who had 13 points each.
Eleven players scored in the game for the Vikings.
“Taj Middleton was great tonight, unbelievable,” Lewis said. “Everybody wants to talk about C.J., C.J. was great. But Taj ... hit some shots early and that opened up lanes for C.J. And how about Derrick Maxwell? Great job off the bench.”
The Vikings’ defense limited Hough forward Luke Maye, a North Carolina recruit, to just two points in the first half and 11 in the game.
“I don’t think that we necessarily ever focus on one player. We are more focused on team defense,” Lewis said. “I think as a team we did an unbelievable job of moving our feet, rotating ... making it difficult on (Maye).”
Michael Grigg led Hough (11-5, 4-2) with 12 points, 10 coming in the final period.
“They beat us in every facet of the game,” Hough coach Jason Grube said. “They executed better, they showed poise, they made shots. ... We didn’t get (Maye) the ball enough. I thought our windows were small to get him the ball, and we missed those windows. We don’t have a lot of margin of error.”
Hough’s best run came early in the third quarter. Down 37-17 at halftime, the Huskies scored seven unanswered points to open the second half, pulling to within 13 and seeming to have some momentum.
The Vikings proceeded to go on a 12-2 run to pull away and never led by fewer than 20 the rest of the game.
North Meck’s fast-paced style seemed to wear down Hough’s defense, leading to several easy drives and lay-ups in the second half.
“We want to play up tempo. We want to get up and down,” Lewis said. “I know that eventually, if we’re playing our style, we’re going to wear teams down.”
North Meck has responded well to its only loss of the season, to Concord Robinson Jan. 6. The Vikings beat Vance by 20 last week.
“I think we’re re-energized, refocused,” Lewis said. “It was an eye-opener for them. ... We’re back zoned in to where we want to be.”