HIGH POINT — High Point Christian’s defense keyed a big run and the Cougars raced into the final four.
Top-seeded HPCA scored 14 straight points during the second quarter to lead by double digits, weathered fourth-seeded Cary Christian’s run to get back in the game and won 67-54 on Friday at HPCA in the second round of the NCISAA 3A East boys basketball playoffs.
In the girls game, the top-seeded Cougars broke free during the second half to beat fourth-seeded Cary Christian 69-46 and advanced to their first state semifinals in program history.
“We played a great first half — a really great second quarter,” HPCA boys coach Joseph Cooper said. “It was our defense. They got whatever they wanted in the first quarter and we were kind of just exchanging baskets. Then, in the second quarter, I think we had six steals.
“That allowed us to kind of get out and score easy baskets and gave us some breathing room. It was the same defense we ran in the first quarter — we were just about a half a step slow. And then I thought we really locked in during the second quarter and were where we needed to be when we needed to be there.”
K.J. Garrett scored 29 points to lead the Cougars (16-9), who — following upsets in all of the other three other games — will host unseeded Asheville Christian (9-16) in the semifinals Tuesday. Ethan Smith added 13 points, followed by Thomas McIntosh with nine points and P.J. Underill with six points.
HPCA held a slim three-point lead early in the second quarter after a back-and-forth first. But its defense forced a flurry of turnovers that allowed it to get to the basket for easy scores. Suddenly the Cougars led by 17 with two minutes left in the half and held a 40-25 lead into halftime.
HPCA extended its lead to 18 with 5 1/2 minutes remaining in the third.
“We definitely created havoc out there,” Garrett said with a smile. “And that’s what we do — just lock in on defense. It was really good. We just wanted to get to the final four — we haven’t been there in forever. That’s just a major goal of ours and we’re not done yet.”
The Knights (17-5), who were led by Seth Cullen with 23 points, quickly answered with a 13-2 run to get within seven with 2 1/2 minutes left in the quarter and trailed by nine heading to the fourth. They got it back to nine three times in the final four minutes, but the Cougars, working the clock well, held on.
“We just had to stay composed, display leadership,” Garrett said. “That’s what we did, and we came out with the W.”
Nadiya Hairston scored 24 points to lead High Point Christian (20-2), which has started to find its way again after losing standout guard Tiir Nyok to a lower leg injury. Kennedy Powell added 12 points, while Angel Walker and Caroline Smith each added 11 points.
“I think we played much better in the second half,” Cougars coach Brittany Drew said. “We’re just trying to make sure we understand energy and attitude is what we’re going to have to have going deeper into these playoffs — it’s anybody’s game.
“I just told our team to focus on us,” she said of the second half. “If we can focus on us and the things we need to do, we don’t have to focus on the other team. And I think that was big in the second half. People started to trust each other, confidence came together, we saw shots go in and it fed the team.”
HPCA, leading 28-24 at halftime following a close first half, opened the third on a 19-7 run to lead by 16 with a minute and a half left in the quarter. It maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the way, steadily pulling away in the fourth to lead by 26 with a minute left.
“First half we were kind of sluggish, but second half we picked up our energy after halftime,” Hairston said. “Once we got rolling, we were hard to stop. I think we started communicating better and everybody raised their energy up. It was like, ‘We’re not going to lose this game.’ So, we had that mentality.”
Chloe Cochran scored 21 points to lead the Knights (7-10).
The Cougars will host Concord Academy (16-2), the No. 2 seed from the West, in the semifinals. The games are tentatively scheduled for Tuesday evening at 5 for the girls game and 7 for the boys game.
“We’re just taking it week by week,” Drew said. “Since November we’ve been telling them that it’s bigger than us. Each game we play is for the program, and we’re trying to create a culture that means winning. And that requires sacrifice. I think the girls have bought in.
“I’m just proud of their resilience and I’m excited,” she said with a laugh.
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HP CHRISTIAN BOYS 67, CARY CHRISTIAN 54
CC 19 6 15 14 – 54
HPCA 21 19 9 18 – 67
Seth Cullen 23, Logan Dukes 11, Neal 6, Lu. Cullen 6, Harvey 5, Bechara 2, Wisniewski 1
HIGH POINT CHRISTIAN
K.J. Garrett 29, Ethan Smith 13, McIntosh 9, Underhill 6, Archie 4, Pagano 3, Sanders 3
HP CHRISTIAN 69 GIRLS, CARY CHRISTIAN 46
CC 9 15 10 12 – 46
HPCA 10 18 21 20 – 69
Chloe Cochran 21, Ashtyn Kelly 12, Somer 5, Riccobene 3, Wood 2, Vestal 2, Allen 1
HIGH POINT CHRISTIAN
Nadiya Hairston 24, Kennedy Powell 12, Angel Walker 11, Caroline Smith 11, Burkhart 6, Walls 4, Hayworth 1