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CHINA GROVE — Five separate fingers in the first half, Statesville’s talented boys were a fist in the second half and overtime and you had to hand it to the Greyhounds.
They got 25 points from Josh Gaither and overcame a full-throttle performance by Carson to beat the Cougars 80-77 in Carson’s gym on Friday.
“We’re just very, very disappointed right now,” Carson coach Brian Perry said. “We had a whole lot of gutty, gritty performances.”
It doesn’t get any grittier or guttier than Carson muscleman Myquon Stout. Besides contributing nine points and 11 rebounds, he took four charges against Greyhounds flying down the lane.
Statesville (14-3, 8-0) also won its previous meeting with the Cougars — 81-75 in overtime on Jan. 4 — and is headed to the NPC championship.
“Two games, two overtimes,” a drained Gaither said. “That shows how tough Carson is. It shows how much we had to work to win.”
The game could not have started any worse for Carson (12-8, 6-2). Tre Williams, the most valuable Cougar and a guy who scored 37 against the Hounds in the previous meeting , got two fouls in the first minute, one offensive and one fighting for a rebound.
Still, Carson controlled the first half, and the Cougars led by double digits when D.J. Love (14 points) scored with 2:46 left in the second quarter. Statesville shot miserably in the first half and was fortunate to get back to a 31-25 deficit at the break.
“We had that deer-in-the-headlights look in the first half, and I don’t know where that came from,” Statesville coach Sonny Schofield said. “We rushed shots and succumbed to their pressure. But we have a lot of experience. At halftime, we woke up.”
Statesville played without guard Marquis Willis, but it was state-championship material in the third quarter. Breon Borders made four straight shots. Jaquan Warren smashed a mind-boggling, momentum-building dunk. But mostly it was Gaither. He drilled three straight 3-pointers.
“I started cold, like 0-for-4,” Gaither said. “But that third quarter, we got back to being ourselves.”
Carson answered with Williams and more Williams. Scoreless in the first half, he powered in for bucket after bucket to finish with 18 points.
“I tried to do all those things I wanted to do in the first half but didn’t get a chance to,” Williams said. “I also tried to get Colton (Laws) more involved, but they were helping a lot on him and it was had to get the ball to him.”
In the fourth quarter, foul trouble was piling up for both teams. Then Statesville’s Jaylen Williams started pouring in points. With three minutes left, Statesville led by nine at 64-55.
“It didn’t look good, but we’ve learned to keep grinding,” Perry said. “These guys understand if you make a couple of baskets and get a couple of stops you’re right back in a ballgame.”
A key and-one by Laws (15 points) and two bombs by Jacob Raper (13 points) brought the Cougars back from the dead. When Tre Williams scooped in an amazing shot, it was 66-all.
Warren missed a heavily contested 3-pointer on the final possession of regulation, and the weary teams gathered themselves for overtime.
In OT, it was Gaither one more time. His three-point play for a four-point lead was the backbreaker, although Raper had one more 3 in his rifle, and that made it close at the end.
“We played our hearts out, never let up, and we were right there again with a great team,” Laws said. “But they were making tough shots with hands in their faces. That’s hard to beat.”

STATESVILLE (80) — Gaither 25, J. Williams 14, Daniels 13, Warren 12, Borders 9, Turner 7, St. John, Murdock.
CARSON (77) — T. Williams 18, Laws 15, Love 14, Raper 13, Stout 9, Howard 6, Hower 2, McCain,

Statesville 9 17 26 14 14— 80
Carson 12 19 18 17 11 — 77

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