by Chris Hunt
There’s something special brewing in the North Mecklenburg boys basketball program.
With a 67-59 victory at Mallard Creek on Feb. 1, the Vikings won their ninth consecutive I-MECK 4A conference game. That winning streak included two 3-point buzzer beaters by forward Karl Barkley in back-to-back games.
Barkley’s first long-distance dagger defeated West Charlotte, 60-57, on Jan. 25, moving North Meck (19-2, 10-1 in the I-MECK) into a first-place tie with the Lions. The second game-winner beat Mooresville, 69-68, and erased a late blunder by Barkley, who intentionally fouled Blue Devils star Shawn Lester with 8.6 seconds remaining and the scored tied at 66. Lester hit his two free throws to take a short-lived lead until point guard Shivaughn Wiggins found Barkley for the 23-foot game-winner.
“The West Charlotte game was much more fun, to be honest with you, because West Charlotte was the (higher regarded) team,” said Barkley. “(Against Mooresville) it was just more of relief because I made a bad play late in the game. I bailed myself out.”
Late-game heroics are nothing new to the Vikings. North Meck has won three games with a last-second shot, including guard Carlin Bremner’s running 3-pointer to sink Myers Park, 48-47. This season, the Vikings have collected nine victories by fewer than six points. That’s the polar opposite of last year, when North Meck coach Duane Lewis said his team lost eight games in the final two minutes.
So what’s the difference?
Lewis said it’s team chemistry: The Vikings didn’t have it last season, but this year is a different story.
“I have never had so many buzzer beaters,” said Lewis, who’s in his 13th season. “These guys just believe in each other. You’ll always have one or two that fall out of it, but they get reeled back in by the other guys.
“These guys are going to make you practice hard. They’re always encouraging, ‘C’mon, let’s get better.’ We’ve just got good chemistry.”
Another key factor, he said, is balanced scoring. After Bremner, the team’s leading scorer, injured his ankle during a holiday tournament, missing a handful of conference games in January, North Meck was forced to tinker with its offense and work the ball inside often.
Spreading the ball around created long-term benefits because it improved the Vikings’ confidence. Against Mooresville, center Jermaine Forte led the Vikings with 19 points, while Barkley and Wiggins chipped in 16 and 12, respectively. Bremner was in foul trouble, scoring just eight points, but the Vikings now know they can win without their top offensive weapon.
“I’ve always believed if you got a team where someone is scoring more than 20 points a game, typically, they are not that very good,” said Lewis. “But when you have a team with three or four guys in double figures, that’s what you want because other teams don’t know what to do with it.”
Players such as Barkley added that because a different hero could emerge each night, the team enjoys playing together more, which translates into more victories. In the win over Mallard Creek, Bremner returned to form with a team-high 20 points, but this time sharp-shooter Kenny Tucker amassed 17 points and Wiggins added 13.
“I just think we have faith in each other and we have more confidence in each other than any other team I’ve ever played for,” said Barkley. “We are having more fun than last year. People are excited and ready to go. It’s just an energy I can’t describe.”