by Chris Hunt
North Mecklenburg boys basketball coach Duane Lewis said there were many heroes in the Vikings’ last-minute comeback to deny rival Hopewell’s upset bid on Jan. 14.
Lewis credited guard Kenny Tucker, center Jermaine Forte and Karl Barkley as a few of the key performers that helped North Meck to a 51-49 victory at Hopewell.
But even the team-first Lewis couldn’t help but rave about point guard Shivaughn Wiggins’ impact on the game.
With leading scorer Carlin Bremner out with an ankle injury, Wiggins has guided the Vikings to their third consecutive I-MECK 4A conference victory, keeping them second in the league standings. Wiggins controlled the tempo down the stretch at Hopewell, hitting the game-winning layup with 36 seconds left. Wiggins made 14 of 15 free throws for a game-high 18 points and five assists.
“That kid is a warrior,” Lewis said. “I can’t say enough about the way he played. He’s just a winner.”
Lewis is excited about the way his team is playing without Bremner, who averages 22 points per game, and thinks his team will be even stronger when the senior shooting guard returns.
Wiggins’ heroics were set up by Barkley’s clutch 3-point shot that cut the Titan’s lead to 49-48 with 1 minute, 17 seconds remaining. Tucker added five 3-pointers in the game, and forwards Tahji Watts and Forte chipped in eight and nine rebounds, respectively, against Hopewell’s taller frontline.
The Vikings return to action Friday, Jan. 21, against Lake Norman. North Meck rescheduled its Jan. 10 game against Mooresville, which was postponed because of snow, to Jan. 26, setting up a critical week of conference play. Not only will the Vikings face the Blue Devils for second place – as of Jan. 17, both teams were tied in the loss column – they will also take on first-place West Charlotte the night before (Jan. 25). The Lions handed the Vikings their only I-MECK 4A loss, 51-40, on Dec. 14.
Russell impresses Lewis
Lewis didn’t just praise his own players. The Viking coach also marveled about Hopewell senior guard Michael Russell, who had a team-high 16 points. The senior had a big hand in erasing North Meck’s 28-16 halftime lead. During one stretch, Russell drained two 3-pointers and tipped in a shot to spark the comeback.
“Michael Russell played his tail off,” said Lewis. “He made some tough shots and got in a zone.”
Hopewell girls still The Hunted
After winning last seasons’ I-MECK 4A conference tournament and earning the No. 1 seed for the state playoffs, the Hopewell girls basketball team entered this season with a huge target on the program. After the Titans’ 57-51 come-from-behind victory on Jan. 14, coach Gary Richmond said they haven’t handled those high expectations very well. His team (12-2, 5-1) struggled to get past North Meck, the league’s sixth-place team, and he’d prefer to put opponents away early in the first half.
“It’s a different mentality being the favorite, and we are having trouble adjusting to it,” said Richmond. “We come out with the idea of, ‘We are the champs. Let’s see what you got.’ But with the exception of two games, we’ve waited to see how hard the other teams were going to play, instead of just jumping on them right then.”
The Titans needed a stout second half to defeat the Vikings for the six consecutive time. Hopewell erased a second-half deficit, outscoring North Meck 33-16 in the final two quarters. Forward Sharee’ Boyd scored 12 of her 13 points in the second half, while junior center Tiera Burks chipped in 12 of her team-high 18 points. Forward Hannah Early added 15 points.
Richmond, however, would prefer to see those points come a little earlier in the game.
“I’ve been here four years, and when we were the underdogs, we would always scare the life out of (the Vikings), and they would come back to win in the fourth quarter,” said Richmond. “The last two years, they’ve been the underdogs, and it’s been just like this (Jan. 14) game. They jump all over us in the first half, and then I have to have a hissy-fit at halftime and (then our players) think, ‘Well, I can play hard for the next 16 minutes or run for an hour and a half next practice.’
“It’s effort and intensity. If we can play like that in the second half, why can’t we do it in the first half? Maybe I have to start fussing before the game starts instead of halftime.”
• Burks has scored at least 15 points in three of her last four games. Coming off the bench against North Meck, her 18 points were a season-high, with eight of her points coming at the free-throw line. Burks also pulled down nine rebounds and now averages 8.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.