It took more than four minutes of game time for East Chapel Hill to score the first field goal of its 52-46 victory against Chapel Hill Friday night.
The tension of a big rivalry game can have that effect, after all. But when the ice was finally broken, in the form of an emphatic jam from Wildcat center Lawyer Dallas, there was no mistaking that this rematch wouldn’t be anything like the 37-36 victory the Tigers took two weeks ago.
“I think we’re still developing as a team,” Wildcat coach Ray Hartsfield said. “But this was the first time I saw them control the tempo of the ball game, defensively, offensively.”
East Chapel Hill was able to better harness its athleticism at every position this time, instead of succumbing to Chapel Hill’s methodical, half-court style of play.
And after Dallas’s dunk, the Wildcats took off with him.
Swarming defense by East Chapel Hill forced travel after travel and turnover after turnover.
The Wildcats, having trailed 2-1 early in the game, would have finished the first quarter leading 15-2 were it not for a last-second 3-pointer by Chapel Hill’s Shane Hill, which cut the deficit to 10.
Robert Wilson and Arkavious Parks kept the Tigers on notice with aggressive moves to the basket, interspersed with the occasional pull-up jumper to keep the defense on its heels.
But in the second quarter, Chapel Hill point guard Brian Thornton began to emulate the style of his opponents to great effect. He determination to get to the rim earned him eight second-period points.
“We really wanted to slow them down, get out on their shooters,” Hartsfield said. “But their little point guard, even against the zone, [Thornton] finds ways to get into the lane. He’s solid, really solid.”
At halftime, the Tigers trailed by just three, 21-18. But five different players scored for East Chapel Hill in the third period, typically finding the basket either in transition or early on in the possession.
Easy bucket after easy bucket whipped the home crowd into a frenzy that culminated with an intentional foul whistled against the frustrated Tigers in transition defense.
When the smoke cleared, East Chapel Hill was again sitting comfortably atop a 38-28 lead, having already eclipsed through three quarters its 36-point total from the previous contest.
And even though his team scored 18 points, Harstfield said he’d had to rein in the storm he’d unleashed in the first three periods.
Tempo, after all, is as much about knowing when to slow down as it is about breakneck speed.
“I had to call a timeout in the fourth quarter to remind them that [Chapel Hill] needed possessions,” Harstfield said. “Unless we have a layup out front, make them play some defense for a little while. We need to put them in panic mode, try to make them do some things they can’t do.”
For Chapel Hill that meant handing Thornton the ball and letting him drive.
Junior guard Jamil Walker also hit a pair of 3-pointers to keep the Tigers within 10.
But trailing by double digits and forced to take chances with a half-court press, Chapel Hill allowed Dallas the opportunity to ice the cake. Dallas threw down another vigorous jam, uncontested.
“When we hold the ball like that and then Lawyer gets a dunk, that takes the wind out of people’s sails,” Harstfield said.
Next: Chapel Hill's boys (4-3) play at Northwood on Tuesday. East Chapel Hill (4-4) is off until it plays at Carrboro (4-2) on Friday.
Carrboro has a week off after winning 63-46 last Tuesday against Corinth Holders. The Jaguars host Lee County on Tuesday.