Behind the performances of three future Division I players, the Vikings of Huntersville, North Carolina, claimed a tough 84-77 win over Mentor, earning a chance to win this prestigious holiday tournament for the third time since 2014.
North Mecklenburg plays for the title Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. against Mountain Brook (Ala.), an 80-57 semifinal winner over Concord First Assembly of North Carolina.
“When you get to a certain level up here, all the teams are good,” said Duane Lewis, in his 21st season as boss at North Mecklenburg. “So to make it to the championship game (for the third time in four trips to Bristol) is always special, because it’s such a great tournament and such a great environment.”
Getting to the final was hardly a cakewalk for the unbeaten Vikings (12-0).
“Man, they play extremely hard,” said North Mecklenburg’s Tristan Maxwell, a 6-foot-4 Georgia Tech signee and the son of longtime NBA guard Vernon Maxwell. “They were really well coached and disciplined and could really contain defensively. They’re probably the best team we’ve played so far.”
Mentor guard Luke Chicone, boastings a motor that does not have an off switch, tipped his hat to the victors.
“They’ve got quite a few Division I players and they’re athletic and they’ve got size and they know how to run the floor,” said the 5-10 junior, the maestro of Mentor’s highly effective diamond- and-1 press, which helped force 21 turnovers. “And on top of that, they’re really skilled.”
Maxwell scored 20 of his game-high 29 points in the first half, helping North Meck overcome a 25-22 deficit after one period to lead 46-36 at intermission. The silky smooth guard hit 5 of 16 shots from 3-point range for the game.
“Tristin was really hot in the first half,” said Lewis, noting that the Vikings had to look elsewhere afterward. “Cameron Gates came off the bench and hit two big 3s for us, and Chris Ford really stepped up — he’s unbelievable on the boards. And Trayden (Williams), he controls everything for us and keeps us calm whenever things get tight. He’s such a good player.”
Williams, a 6-foot guard headed to Robert Morris, finished with 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting. Ford, a 6-5 junior who has already received an offer from Davidson, was excellent inside with 13 points and 17 boards.
Mentor (3-2) trailed by as many as 12 in the third quarter but fought back to within 61-60 early in the fourth. However, with Ford playing big inside and Shamann Artis hitting a big 3, the Cardinals never could get the lead.
North Meck moved back out in front by a 74-63 count with 2:32 to play, only to see the hard-working Cardinals close to 74-70 at the 1:28 mark. But Mentor, which received 22 points apiece from the ultra-quick Chicone and powerful 6-5 Chad Rogers, could not find a way over the top.
“They are 39th in the country, but we went into this game thinking we should win, not just that we could win,” said 27th-year Mentor coach Robert Krizancic. "This is only our fifth game and I guess we just couldn't quite get it done.
“But I liked our effort. I tell my players the one thing I want an outsider to tell me is that we play harder than most teams, and I appreciate that.”
The teams combined to jack up 127 shots, including 61 from beyond the arc. North Meck shot 48% from the floor.
MOUNTAIN BROOK 80, CONCORD FIRST ASSEMBLY 57
The three-time defending 7A state Alabama champion Spartans had little difficulty in earning their spot in tonight’s final. Mountain Brook led 29-16 after one period and 47-26 at halftime.
The deep Spartans relied on suffocating full-court pressure to force 22 turnovers while shooting 52% from the floor.
Mountain Brook (17-1) was led offensively by 6-foot-5 Xavier signee Colby Jones, who hit 10 of 15 shots to bag 29 points. Jones received excellent support in the 20-point outing of Carter Sobera and the 19-point effort of Holt Bashinsky, who hit 4 of 7 shots from 3-point range.
The Eagles, who shot 37% from the floor, were led by the 18 points of Trae Benham. Issac Boothe kicked in 13.