RALEIGH — With each swish of the net, the knife inside of Chatham Charter’s collective heart twisted just a little bit further.
As Hayesville senior point guard Kolbe Ashe stood at the charity stripe in overtime, knocking down free throw after free throw, the Knights’ hopes of claiming their first 1A men’s basketball state title got slimmer and slimmer.
Until, finally, time expired with the Yellow Jackets on top.
It was a nail-biting, come-from-behind victory for Hayesville (28-0, 10-0 in Smoky Mountain 1A), who defeated Chatham Charter (33-2, 10-0 in Central Tar Heel 1A), 54-43, in an emotional overtime game in the NCHSAA 1A Men’s Basketball State Championship Game on Saturday, hosted at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh.
In an arena full of rich history, the Knights fell just short of making their own after blowing a 10-point second-quarter lead to the Yellow Jackets, who secured their first state title since 2004.
“We had some shots that would normally fall that didn’t go down, so that changed some things for us,” Jason Messier, the Knights’ head coach, said of the team’s second-half struggles. “I don’t think that them switching their defense bothered us that much because we still got the ball through the middle. … The shots just didn’t fall.”
In a contest as fast-paced and physical as the one that took place on Saturday afternoon, it’s only fitting that it came down to the slow-moving, concentrating art of the free throw.
And in the biggest game of his high school career, Ashe splashed in 12 straight free throws in the overtime period, gradually allowing the Yellow Jackets to pull away from the Knights, one point at a time.
He finished the extra period 13-of-14 (93%) from the line.
In total, Ashe scored 16 of his 29 points from the stripe, making 16-of-20 (80%) overall, with two of his misses coming at the end of regulation with a chance to ice the game with less than 30 seconds to play.
He more than made up for it in the end.
“Just whatever it takes to win,” Ashe said nonchalantly in Hayesville’s post-game press conference when asked about his ice-in-his-veins performance down the stretch. “I’m going to do it and I know my teammates will, too.”
Where the Yellow Jackets won the game on free throws, the Knights may have lost it with their inconsistent shot-making from the line.
Chatham Charter was a measly 8-of-16 (50%) from the charity stripe — all in regulation, having not attempted a single free throw in overtime — and, mathematically, had even one of those other eight free throws fallen, they may have walked off the court as state champions.
But in a gym that seats nearly 13,000 people compared to the smaller gym in Siler City at a school of around 200 students that the Knights are used to, the atmosphere and depth perception are vastly different.
“It’s tough to prepare for this type of environment,” Messier said. “Here we are on this court with nothing behind (the goal except for) fans, we don’t have courts like that, we don’t play on courts like that. So I do think that affected us a little bit in the moment. … Down the stretch with free throws, you’d like to make them, it’s our goal to make them, they just didn’t go down.”
While Ashe’s late-game free throws made the final score — an 11-point Hayesville win — look a little more lopsided than it truly was, Messier appeared pleased with the way his team played, especially with his squad being much younger than teams which typically play at this stage.
Out of the 16 teams that played for a state title across four classifications, regardless of gender, Chatham Charter was the only team solely made up of underclassmen — making it to the championship game without a single senior on its roster.
Though if you hadn’t glanced at the roster or the box score, it would have been easy to confuse Knights freshman Beau Harvey for a seasoned veteran.
Harvey, who has acted as the team’s floor general this year, had himself a day against Hayesville, scoring 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting, racking up 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 steals in the process.
His performance was enough to earn him the East Region’s Most Outstanding Player award and, for a fleeting moment, looked like it would help will them to a state title.
He scored the first 7 points for the Knights, including a 3-pointer that visibly energized him and his teammates as they took hold of a 7-0 lead to start the game.
As much as Harvey thrived offensively in the first half, knocking down 5-of-6 shots for 12 points before the halftime break, he and the rest of the group looked even better on the defensive end.
In the first quarter, Hayesville’s offense was abysmal thanks to the pressure the Knights’ defense —with Chatham Charter doing a great job of sticking to the Yellow Jackets’ primary scoring duo, Ashe and senior Jake McTaggart.
Between the two of them, they were a combined 1-for-4 for 4 points in the first quarter, followed up by a 2-for-6 (6 points) shooting performance in the second.
Entering Saturday’s contest, the hype surrounding McTaggart — an athletic 6-foot-6 forward who’s already committed to UNC-Charlotte to play tight end for the 49ers’ football team — was off the charts, coming off of a 32-point performance against Winston-Salem Prep in the West Regional Final.
But early in the game, that hype didn’t seem to faze Knights freshman Brennen Oldham, a 6-foot-6 big man himself, who wasn’t afraid to get physical with McTaggart down low.
He bumped bodies with him, boxed him out, blocked a couple of his shots and stuck to him like glue, frustrating him early and getting under his skin with his refusal to back down, aided by a little bit of trash talk.
It often got chippy between McTaggart and Oldham, who bantered back-and-forth with one another as Oldham was the subject of unfavorable boos from the Yellow Jackets portion of the crowd more than once.
However, Oldham appeared to embrace his villain role as he continued to battle with McTaggart, going as far as to out-rebound him (7 to 6) in the first half.
“We have a culture that we’ve established and defense is our thing,” Messier said when asked about getting his program to this level. “Early on, we held them to 14 points at the half, so defense was our thing.”
But just before the halftime break, McTaggart scored an and-one bucket in the paint, tacking on the free throw to cut his team’s deficit to 7 points, 21-14.
And in the third quarter, the Knights continued to hold their own, responding to the positive offensive plays from Hayesville with some playmaking of their own.
When Yellow Jackets junior Logan Caldwell drilled a 3-pointer on a nice assist from Ashe to cut the deficit to 4 points, 21-17, Knights junior Adam Harvey responded with a floater to extend their lead.
The same goes for when Ashe scored on a put-back late in the period, to which Beau Harvey immediately followed up with a fearless driving layup of his own to make it a 5-point game.
While the Knights were outscored in the third, 9-7, the overall score was still in their favor, 28-23, as their defense continued to play lights out and their offense was doing just enough to keep them afloat.
However, that’d all come to a head in the fourth quarter, when the Yellow Jackets’ seniors came alive.
McTaggart led off the fourth with a baseline jumper to make it a one-possession game, followed by Ashe scoring an and-one bucket in transition on a blocking foul by Knights junior Jackson Brown, who unsuccessfully attempted to take a charge.
Ashe promptly hit the free throw and tied the game for the first time since it was 0-0 at tipoff.
After a couple of missed shots on the Knights’ end, Ashe jogged down the floor, stopped at the right elbow and pulled up in front of Oldham, knocking down an easy jumper to give Hayesville its first lead of the game, 30-28. He was clearly in the zone.
It was a disaster of a start for the Knights, who struggled to find their rhythm offensively for most of the night, but especially late in the game.
Ashe’s shot began a stretch with three more ties and two more lead changes as the two top-seeded teams in the 1A classification battled it out for supremacy.
And with the game knotted at 34-34 with 1:17 to play, Ashe took control again, knocking down a turnaround fade-away jumper just inside the free-throw line to put his team ahead, 36-34.
McTaggart blocked a shot by Mapp on the ensuing possession, leading to him drawing a foul and splitting the free throws to give the Yellow Jackets a 37-34 lead with under a minute to play.
Mapp was called for an offensive foul on the Knights’ next possession, but Oldham knocked the ball away from Yellow Jackets junior Kyle Lunsford on the inbound, which was scooped up by Adam Harvey and eventually found its way back into Oldham’s hands, who was sent to the line on a foul with 40.3 seconds to go.
Oldham made one of two free throws to make it 37-35, but as Ashe brought the ball up the court, Brown was called for a foul that sent the senior point guard to the free-throw line — where he surprisingly whiffed on both of them, keeping the Knights alive.
On the other end of the floor, Beau Harvey — who was being trapped by a pair of defenders near mid-court — found Mapp wide open in the paint with a beautiful pass, who scored the game-tying layup.
Hayesville Head Coach Michael Cottrell opted not to call a timeout on his team’s next possession, where Ashe found sophomore Taylor McClure down low, but his potential go-ahead shot was swatted away by Oldham, who came up with one of the biggest defensive plays of the season.
“It was really exciting to be in this environment and (get) the biggest block of the game,” Oldham said after the loss.
The block led to a foul against Beau Harvey, who was attempting to push the ball up the court as time expired, which would have sent him to the free-throw line with a chance to win it, but the officials (correctly) said the buzzer came before the whistle, sending the game into extras.
In the overtime period, the Knights scored just 6 points, both 3-pointers from Mapp, as Ashe’s free throws propelled the Yellow Jackets into the history books.
It was a tough day for Chatham Charter offensively, shooting 16-of-58 (28%) from the field, including 3-of-14 (21%) from behind the arc.
Adam Harvey, who was averaging 22 points per game in the postseason, had a difficult day scoring the ball, putting up 11 points on 4-of-20 (20%) shooting.
“As they continue to mature, the offense is going to come,” Messier said. “Hayesville’s defense had a lot to do (with our shooting numbers), especially with that physicality.”
And as well as the Knights’ defense did at stopping the Yellow Jackets’ power duo in the first half, the two Hayesville seniors finished the game with a combined 47 points — accounting for 87% of their team’s overall scoring.
But, for a team as youthful as the Knights, there’s plenty of room to use this season — one where they ran the table in the Central Tar Heel 1A conference, won 33 games and made it further than any other Chatham Charter team before them — as a stepping stone for what’s to come.
As Messier puts it, this loss only makes them hungrier.
“This hurts for these young men, but this is something we’re going to use to get us back to this point,” he said. “We’re going to use this to fuel the fire when we get to our summer workouts. We’re going to take some time off and just come back even hungrier with some experience. … As we get back in that weight room and we get these guys a little bit stronger, a little bit bigger, I have confidence that we’re going to have an opportunity to make another run next year.”
Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.
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