NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, SOUTH CAROLINA - The fortunes of a basketball team can change quickly and dramatically.
Just ask North Myrtle Beach coach Ryan Walker. He knows.
The Chiefs suffered a demoralizing loss to a previously winless Myrtle Beach squad last Friday. Four days later, they played wire-to-wire defense and stunned 4-A defending state champion Wilson, 36-32.
“What a great bounce back win for a young group,” said Walker, his voice raspy. “Good Lord.”
And it was solid all the way through.
The Chiefs, who are now 8-11 overall and 2-4 in Region 6-AAAA, took the lead in the middle of the first quarter and never looked back. For much of the game, they led by 10-12 points on the strength of tenacious defense until Wilson (16-6 overall, 5-1 in region play) closed the gap late in the fourth quarter.
“That’s what we do,” said sophomore forward Jamie Brooks, who had 8 points and 2 blocks. “We lost to Myrtle. But we got back to work. We knew we had to play defense. That helps our offense. It was a good win.”
While it was an upset, a North Myrtle Beach victory wasn’t entirely farfetched. When the teams played earlier in the month at Wilson, the Chiefs were within five in the fourth quarter before losing 53-44.
Cash Brown also had eight points for the Chiefs. Reserve forward Connor Henley had all four of his points in the fourth quarter and made a pair of blocks.
Merel Burgess led the Tigers with 12 points and Josh Leonard had 8. But everyone else was shut down as the Chiefs heavily contested each possession with their man-to-man defense. Wilson had few open looks, especially in the paint.
“It’s a team effort,” Henley said. “We were locked in and playing defense. That’s what we did in practice and we did in the game.”
The visiting Tigers still almost stole a win. North Myrtle Beach went scoreless for nearly five minutes in the fourth quarter before Henley, who had just blocked a shot that would have cut the lead to two, went backdoor for a layup.
But when Burgess muscled in for a three-point play, North Myrtle Beach’s lead was down to 33-30 with 2:12 remaining.
The Chiefs were pressured on their next possession and Walker called a timeout. Then they executed a perfect inbound play with the 6-foot-7 Henley streaking to the basket. He caught a pass in stride and laid the ball in for a 35-30 lead.
“When he doesn't worry about scoring and all the little things that go with it, everything else happens,” Walker said. “That’s why he was able to make that play.”
A finger roll by Burgess cut the lead to three again and after a Chiefs turnover, Wilson had a chance. Jeron Brown got an open look at the top of the circle but his 3-point attempt clanged off the back of the rim.
Brown was fouled with 9.5 seconds left and made the first three throw in the 1-and-1, which sealed the win for North Myrtle Beach. Ironically, it was the only free throw that went in all night for the Chiefs, who were 1-of-7.
When the clock read 0:00, the Chiefs mobbed each other in celebration.
What really made it possible was a 10-0 run that spanned the end of the first quarter and into the second. A highlight of the spurt came when McCain Moses converted a steal into a layup and drew a charge on Wilson’s next trip down the court. By the time Noah Louder grabbed an offensive rebound and made a layup, North Myrtle Beach led 22-10 with 3:47 left in the third quarter.
The Chiefs still led 31-20 with 1:06 left in the third quarter when Wells Hill hit a 3-pointer from the wing.
Wilson outscored North Myrtle Beach 7-0 over the next five and a half minutes. Xavier Brown’s 15-foot jumper made it a 31-27 game with 3:22 to go.
But North Myrtle Beach had enough left in the tank.
“These guys dug in and kind of had each other’s backs,” Walker said. “It was unbelievable.”