For a few minutes, North Mecklenburg’s boys’ basketball team saw its chances of finishing with an undefeated conference season slipping away.
Then Jaylen McManus took over and helped the Vikings clinch the outright MECKA 4A regular-season title with a 69-63 victory over Hough on Tuesday night.
McManus finished with a double-double, scoring 17 points and pulling down 12 rebounds for North Mecklenburg, No. 2 in the Sweet 16.
But none of McManus’ points were more important than the ones he scored late in the fourth quarter.
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After leading by as many as 10 points in the third quarter, the Vikings saw the ninth-ranked Huskies rally in the fourth.
Hough tied the score at 55 on Blake Bailey’s layup with 4 minutes, 49 seconds left, then take a 58-55 lead on Cooper Crawford’s 3-pointer from the corner with 4:01 remaining.
But McManus responded with nine unanswered points, dropping in a layup with 3:44 left to cut the Huskies’ lead to 1 point, then putting the Vikings ahead with a fast-break dunk with 2:40 left.
“I just let the game come to me,” McManus said. “I slowed down, tried not to rush anything, tried not to do anything I normally don’t do.”
North Mecklenburg – which also clinched the top seed in next week’s conference tournament at Hough High – closed out the game with a 14-5 run in winning its eighth straight.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Vikings guard Davion Mintz, who scored a game-high 20 points. “It was a close one tonight, but it feels good to have closed it out.”
Kendall Coles had 12 points and Ethan Wacker 10 for the Vikings.
Ryan Friday led the Huskies with 19 points. Crawford finished with 14, and Qon Murphy 12.
Quote: “We had a couple plays where we didn’t execute at the end of the game. We had the lead, but we didn’t take care of the basketball well enough, and they made the plays. The McManus kid made some plays, and they hit the free throws at the end.” – Hough coach Jason Grube.
Records: Hough 16-6, 8-3 MECKA 4A; North Mecklenburg 20-2, 11-0.
Worth mentioning: Hough’s girls rallied from a 2-point deficit in the second half to beat North Mecklenburg 47-30 and move into a tie for second place in the MECKA 4A standings. Renee Alquiza scored 14 points for the Huskies (14-8, 7-4). Shaniya Lester had a game-high 17 points for North Mecklenburg.
What’s Next: Hough closes out its regular-season schedule on Thursday, hosting MECKA 4A rival Vance; on Friday, North Mecklenburg plays at Mallard Creek.