As I sat watching Ardrey Kell’s Steven Santa Ana score 19 of his team’s 24 points in the third quarter of the N.C. 4A state championship game Saturday night, I began to think about what was happening. At the start of the third quarter, Santa Ana had 30 points.
I knew I was watching one of the best N.C. High School Athletic Association championship performances ever. Santa Ana finished with 44 points in the Knights’ 70-64 loss to Garner in one of the more thrilling state finals I’ve seen in many years. Santa Ana set a new finals’ scoring record. His 33 second-half points broke the record for points in half -- by eight -- and his second half scoring would rank No. 7 among top 10 finals scoring performances.
Santa Ana, who had eight rebounds, also made 13-of-15 free throws, which ranks fifth-best in finals history. And he did all this in a big-time environment on a big-time stage.
Ardrey Kell brought one of the biggest fan bases from Charlotte for any team other than West Charlotte that I’ve seen in a state final. Garner had a huge fan section, too. It was ear-splitting loud and the teams put on a classic performance. Santa Ana and Garner’s Julius Barnes each had 14 points in a nail-biting fourth quarter as the two took turns taking, and making, huge shots with a championship on the line.
Santa Ana led his team back from an 18-point deficit with a dizzying array of contested 3-point shots and courageous drives to the basket against a pretty big Garner team.
“It was a tale of two halves,” Garner coach Eddie Gray said. “First half, we played tempo basketball, that was part of our game plan. Ardrey Kell made a heck of a comeback in the third quarter. Santa Ana is an outstanding player. He’s going to make Elon a great freshman class. But we held on at the end and made just enough free throws to win the game.”
People will talk about Santa Ana’s performance for a long time, Gray said. And as he got the postgame media conference, Santa Ana’s gray jersey was still wet from the sweat of his effort. His cheeks were wet, too. It was his final game and losing hurt. But he had played a game for the ages.
“Early on, things weren’t going,” Santa Ana said, “and I knew I had to start attacking and getting some buckets. It’s going to be tough to leave here. These guys mean a lot to me. It’s like a family and I’m really glad that I was able to have the success and opportunity I’ve had here.
“I’m really going to miss this place, these coaches, these guys. I can’t say how much this place has meant to me and how much I’ve grown here. It’s been a great ride.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr
Langston’s Top 10 State Finals Performances
Since starting to work at the Observer in 1988, I’ve seen well over 100 state final basketball games. Here is a list of the top 10 finals performances I’ve seen:
10. Henrik Rodl, Chapel Hill, 1987: Rodl, a long European who would play at North Carolina, ruined North Meck’s unbeaten season with 34 points in a 82-79 win at the Smith Center. Rodl scored 34 points, setting an NCHSAA scoring record for finals on college campuses. I was a junior in college and walked down from my dorm to see the game. I’m still amazed at how Rodl could play five positions and score effectively from each one. Rodl’s scoring record stood for seven years.
9. Konecka Drakeford, Providence Day girls, 1993: Drakeford, a three-time Parade All-American, is the best girls’ player, in my opinion, in N.C. high school history. Her final high school game was one of her best. She was 18-of-29 from the field in a state final win over Charlotte Christian. Drakeford finished with 39 points, 14 rebounds, five steals, three assists and a block. When Christian closed to 56-49 late, Drakeford had 10 straight points to put it away.
8. D.D. Rogers girls, Myers Park, 2014: Rogers, the daughter of former Wake Forest and NBA star Rodney Rogers, had 25 points and 20 rebounds as Myers Park beat Southeast Raleigh 61-46 to win its first state final. Rogers had the third-most rebounds by an NCHSAA girl in a final and a record for Mecklenburg County girls. Her father, injured years earlier in a motorbike accident, watched from the sidelines at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh in a wheelchair. After the game, a teary-eyed D.D. Rogers came over to share her championship MVP moment with her dad. She repeated as finals MVP in 2015.
7. Danny Johnson, Morganton Freedom, 1994: In the highest scoring final in 16 years -- since Rocky Mount and future NBA star Buck Williams beat Greensboro Grimsley 91-83 -- Freedom topped Cary 87-75. It was Freedom coach Terry Rogers’ 500th win and it was Freedom’s first state title. Johnson, a 6-3 senior forward, scored 37 points on 12-for-18 shooting and broke Rodl’s finals’ scoring record. Johnson made 9-of-10 free throws.
6. Daymond Forney, South Mecklenburg, 1993: South Meck lost 53-52 to Hope Mills South View after a future Duke star named Jeff Capel scored on a dunk with five seconds left. Forney, South Meck’s 6-8 center, was the talk of the game, though. Forney had 17 points, 10 rebounds and a still finals’ record 10 blocks in mostly spectacular fashion. In the second half, Forney had 12 points, six rebounds and six blocks. “Forney?,” South View coach Ron Miller said after the game, “I hope I never see him again.”
5. Jeff McInnis, West Charlotte, 1991: McInnis, a 6-4 sophomore guard who would play at North Carolina and the NBA, led an awful young Lions team to the title, giving coach Charles McCullough his fourth NCHSAA championship. West Charlotte beat favored East Wake 61-44. McInnis and 6-6 sophomore Thad Bonaparte were the Lions stars. Bonaparte finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds. McInnis had 20 points, five rebounds and three steals, handling the pressure from East Wake and handling the moment. “We started talking to them in the second half,” McInnis said after the Lions widened a 24-22 halftime lead. “We told them they didn’t want it bad enough. They didn’t say anything back. We knew that they were scared.”
4. Scooter Sherrill, West Rowan, 1997: Before he played at N.C. State, Sherrill became a N.C. legend as a freshman, coming off the bench to score what was then a finals’ record for points in a half in a 79-67 win over Wallace-Rose Hill at the Smith Center. Sherrill, then a 6-1 guard, had 25 points in the second half and 29 for the game. He broke Rodl’s record of 23 points in a half and won championship MVP in front of a crowd of more than 6,000. Sherrill made three straight 3-point shots in 44 seconds to give his team a 58-51 lead with 6:28 left. “That’s the kind of performance legends are made of,” West Rowan coach Bobby Shipwash said.
3. Isaiah Hicks, Oxford Webb, 2013: the 6-9 UNC recruit had a game for the ages in a 73-70 overtime win against Statesville. Hicks enjoyed a huge height advantage over a Statesville team that was full of 6-footish guards. But Hicks had an NCHSAA championship record 30 rebounds and 34 points, which is the eighth-most in finals hisory. "In 17 years of doing this, I once saw Kevin Love get 32 rebounds in a game and had never heard of anyone approaching it until Hicks did it, " said then ESPN recruiting analyst Dave Telep. "Think of it this way, he pulled down one rebound every minute for the entire game.”
2. Steven Santa Ana, Ardrey Kell, 2015: Santa Ana started this game 1-for-7, but poured it on late. Ardrey Kell lost 70-64 to Garner in one of the best N.C. 4A finals I’ve ever seen. Garner’s Julius Barnes scored 14 points in the fourth quarter after Ardrey Kell had rallied from 18 points down to take the lead. Santa Ana finished 13-of-26 from the floor and 5-for-13 on 3-point shots. His 44 points is a new championship record. His 33-point second half is a new finals record -- by 8 points. Santa Ana also made 13-of-15 free throws, which ties for fifth-best in finals history.
1. Jason Parker, West Charlotte, 1999: A 6-foot-8, 265-pound forward who was considered one of the best amateurs in the world at the time, Parker woke up for state championship Saturday fighting flu symptoms. He spent Friday night in a Chapel Hill hotel room, sweating and shaking. But in an 84-67 win over Wilmington Laney, Parker had 38 points, then the second most points in championship history. He had 12 rebounds, four blocked shots and five thunderous dunks that left the rims at the Smith Center shaking. One of the dunks was over and through Laney’s 6-7 Ronald Montgomery and 6-6 Reggie Nero. Another was a two-handed alley-oop on a ball that looked like it might go out of bounds. Parker jumped up and caught it, both hands at the top of the white square at the top of the backboard, and flushed the ball through. Laney tried double-teaming after Parker had 12 points in the first quarter, but with Marcus Oliver (23 points) making 4-of-8 3-pointers, Laney had to play him honest. “You don’t know how big my eyes got,” Parker said of seeing just one defender on him, a rarity that season. “They got real big. They must not watch the videotape.”