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Northside Christian holds off Gaston Day in MAC tournament final

The Northside Christian Academy boys’ basketball team faced adversity early this season when three of its top players transferred from the school.

But the Knights came together and won the Metrolina Athletic Conference regular season title.

So when Northside trailed Gaston Day by six points at halftime of the MAC tournament final Friday – after trailing as much as 10 in the second quarter – the Knights didn’t panic.

Northside (22-5) outscored the Spartans 21-10 in the third quarter and held off a fourth quarter Gaston Day (22-7) push to win the tournament title game 58-53 in front of a loud home crowd.

“Coming in the whole year people doubted us, so you know we had to man together like one team,” said senior Rayjon Tucker, who finished with a team-high 19 points. “I feel like the coaches did a good job, we did a good job as players, loving each other, loving to play with each other, so it’s just a great experience playing with these people, my teammates, my brothers.”

Gaston Day was in control early, jumping out to a 8-0 lead before Northside closed the gap to 16-12 at the end of the first quarter. The Spartans scored eight unanswered points again to start the second quarter and had a 24-14 lead with less than five minutes left in the half. Gaston Day led 27-21 at halftime.

“All we said when we went into the locker room was we had to play defense,” Tucker said. “It came down to playing defense and getting stops. … We have the heart and we kind of settled ourselves down.”

Northside tied the score at 33 midway through the third quarter. A Malcolm Cumberbatch (11 points) dunk gave the Knights a 37-35 lead – its first of the game – and Northside followed that with a steal and a quick Lysander Bracey (12 points) 3-pointer to take a five point lead.

Back-to-back layups by Gaston Day’s Aidan Richard gave the Spartans a 46-45 lead, but Tucker’s put-back with 3:14 to go put the Knights back in the lead for good.

Tucker also made all six free throws in the final minute to prevent a Gaston Day comeback. Derek McKnight led Gaston Day with 19 points.

Northside will try to win a fourth straight state title in next week’s N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 2A tournament.

“It’s just a great feeling to know that we can fight through adversity and still come out on top,” Tucker said. “So we still have one phase to go, and I believe in my boys.”

Northside Christian also won the girls’ game, beating Concord First Assembly 59-57. Christiana McLean led the Knights with 14 points and Eleah Parker, who was in foul trouble early, and Shamani Stafford both finished with 11.

Zaria Wright led Concord First Assembly with 32 points.