CHATHAM CHARTER 63, GATES COUNTY 40

Knights erase early-game frustrations, take care of business against Red Barons in 1st round

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SILER CITY — Chatham Charter had one primary job entering Tuesday’s first-round playoff game: Don’t let Dorien Melton beat you.

The 6-foot-even sophomore guard is the heart and soul of a Gates County team that was hungry for an upset win — a UMBC-Virginia-level upset, at that, with the top-seeded Knights playing host to the No. 32 Red Barons in the opening round of the NCHSAA’s 1A state playoffs.

And while it was a close game for much of the contest’s first three quarters, the Knights managed to avoid the potential letdown, pull away toward the end and hang on for a 23-point victory, 63-40, to advance to the second round.

“We’re going to face adversity. All great teams, when they make runs, face adversity at some point,” Jason Messier, the Knights’ head coach, said after the win. “Hopefully, this is our adversity, this is our wake-up call. … I’m happy, just frustrated because I know how special this season can be, I know what we have and what we’re capable of doing.”

Despite the focal point being Melton, he still managed to make the Knights’ crowd nervous early on.

In the first half, he led all scorers with 10 points, including two 3-pointers, one of which came at the first-quarter buzzer to tie the game at 12 apiece, which was met with nothing but moans and groans from the stands.

A scouting report on Melton from Phenom Hoops’ Jeff Bendel in October describes him as a “strong-bodied guard who absorbs contact very well, both as a finisher and a ball-handler,” qualities of which were magnified in the opening half.

It was clear he wanted the ball in his hands — and if it was, trouble was often on the horizon.

“This kid’s capable of facilitating the game,” Messier said. “Passing, getting guys open, taking over.”

And in the process of Melton’s takeover, the Knights were getting into foul trouble, sending the Red Barons to the line nine times and allowing them to hang around instead of coming out and burying them.

Then, in what appeared to be an act of frustration following two fouls in 26 seconds, Messier yelled “Corners!” from the sidelines with three minutes to play in the half.

From there, freshman point guard Beau Harvey stood near mid-court and held the ball as the other four Knights ran to their respective corners.

And for 2 minutes, 47 seconds, everyone just stood there.

Harvey up top, holding the ball underneath his arms.

The Red Baron defenders, glued to their 2-3 zone.

The quartet of Knights at each corner, waiting to strike.

Occasionally, junior Aamir Mapp and sophomore Jonah Ridgill, the two Knights standing in the lower corners, would shoot toward the paint as if they were cutting to receive a pass … but they never did.

The clock ticked down to the 13-second mark and Harvey finally made his move, scoring the ball with just a few seconds left, inciting a roar from the Knights faithful.

Gates County junior Semaj Cross managed to throw up a beautiful behind-the-back bucket at the buzzer to keep the Red Barons within 6 points, 25-19, but Messier’s decision to trim nearly three minutes off of the game clock — and Gates County Head Coach Tron Greene’s choice to let it happen — was an interesting one.

“I’m not surprised (that Greene didn’t switch to man defense),” Messier said. “At that point, the coach, I assume, is thinking that it’s a close game and we’re just going to go to the second half.

“I know a lot of people are looking at (holding the ball) as ‘Not basketball, this is why we want a shot clock,’ but at that point, we were hemorrhaging,” he added, “from the aspect of foul trouble and things we wanted to do. So we were just looking to get to the half without picking up any fouls. That’s just strategy at that point.”

When the game resumed after the halftime intermission, Cross picked up an and-one basket, followed by a free throw from Melton, which brought the Red Barons within 2 points, 25-23.

But it was time for the Knights to hit their switch.

Knights junior Adam Harvey scored a layup with ease on a textbook press break, complemented by a put-back bucket in the paint by freshman Brennen Oldham off of a missed free throw in the next sequence.

A couple of possessions later, Adam Harvey — the Central Tar Heel 1A Conference Player of the Year — drilled a 3-pointer to give Chatham Charter its first double-digit lead of the night, 34-23.

They didn’t look back.

“This is just a team that can turn it on at any given moment,” Messier said of his team’s game-sealing run in the third quarter. “When they get after it, they’re capable of doing that type of stuff. I got onto them at halftime about the things we need to do better. The big thing is, they responded.”

Over the next 13 minutes of game time, Melton only mustered 3 points, which came on a 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter with his team down by 21 points.

The Knights did their job in shutting down Melton in the second half — and the scoreboard reflected that.

Cross was the beneficiary of Melton’s offensive woes, scoring 20 points on the night to lead all scorers, but it just wasn’t enough.

“We struggled to keep (Melton) and (Cross) in front of us, so we went to a 1-3-1 zone,” Messier said. “There wasn’t anything as far as (halftime) adjustments, we just made sure we knew where (Melton) was … we wanted to double him, get the ball out of his hands and force these other guys to do stuff and take them out of their comfort zone.”

The Harvey brothers — Adam (18 points, led team) and Beau (10 points) — thrived in the second half, combining for 17 points as both of them looked extremely comfortable going one-on-one with defenders and getting to the basket when needed.

And with the Knights on a roll on both sides of the ball, it seemed like they ran the score up in the blink of an eye, capturing a 23-point win, 63-40, when the final buzzer squealed.

It may not have been pretty at times and it may have been a tad frustrating for Messier and his squad, but in the end, they’re moving on to the second round for the first time since the 2019-20 season that saw them make a deep playoff run to the state semifinals.

There are clearly a few things that need tweaking, said Messier, such as the team’s free-throw shooting (an abysmal 8-for-23, 35%) and defensive discipline, but he doesn’t seem too worried. Just add them to the list.

When you’re the region’s No. 1 seed for the first time in school history, it comes with a little added pressure.

But as the Knights showed in their win against the Red Barons, they’re fully ready to take that pressure head-on.

“When you’re that No. 1 seed, it comes with extra pressures, but those are what you want,” Messier said. “You want those big-game moments. … It’s a great feeling.”

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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