As the smell of Southern fried cooking wafted through the tiny Victory Christian court, anticipation that accompanies a big game was building. The place was rocking.
And then the fire marshall arrived.
As would-be spectators stood outside, the powers that be would not let anyone else into the gym. In fact, by law in the city of Charlotte, once the brass is called in the building has to be evacuated.
The number we kept hearing was 486. A crowd that may have pushed 1,000 was sliced in half and this game was going to take a while to get started. Even if the contest doesn't go into overtime we were headed for a 10:30 finish.
After the game ended only one conclusion could be drawn: it was worth the wait.
Once again, the Charlotte Christian Knights and the Victory Christian Conquerors needed overtime to settle the score. Unlike the Dec. 30 contest in which Charlotte Christian won in overtime, the roles were reversed this time around. Victory was victorious 68-67.
For Shonn Brown's Knights, the recipe for disaster was conjured up in the first half. Buckets, especially inside, were tough to come by and his top player, Damier Pitts, found a seat next to the coach on the pine with foul trouble. Victory Christian sprinted out to a 15-12 first quarter lead and carried a 33-19 margin into the locker room.
Had Seth Curry not stepped up and made a few 3s to go with a slew of savvy hustle and defensive plays, it would have been real ugly early. Victory Christian guard Andre Cornelius had found the range as well. With 13 points in the first half courtesy of 3-for-5 from downtown, Cornelius' crew appeared armed with enough ammunition to ride home a victory on their own court.
However, as quickly as the lead expanded Charlotte Christian whittled it down. The Conquerors were reckless with the basketball and it was costing them. Finally, with 7:08 left in the game Pitts had the Knights within 2 points when he stole a pass and converted a lay-up. A few minutes later his runner gave Charlotte Christian its first lead and the momentum to win the game in regulation.
The tables were turned and now the Conquerors were scrapping to get back into the game. Javarris Barnett (11 points, 4-11 FG, 3-5 3s) drilled a trifecta from the top of the key; the Knights answered.
There wasn't enough time in regulation to settle it. Tied at 57-57 we were headed for an extra session. Would we need two overtimes?
Almost, but Cornelius didn't allow it to happen.
With 4 ticks left in OT, Pitts got a piece of Cornelius behind the arc in the act of shooting. The two good friends, centerpieces in the rivalry, factored into the final seconds as expected. Cornelius sank the first two tosses and the third try wouldn't go down. It left just enough time on the clock for Pitts to get off another runner which didn't fall.
Victory Christian defended its home court 68-67. Cornelius was the leading scorer with 26 points, 6 in overtime. Pitts tossed in 19 of his own for good measure.
Cornelius, excited and exhausted, couldn't leave the court. Literally he was stuck near midcourt with cramps. As the cramped-in-capacity crowd excited, the cramped up junior lay at midcourt court working on relaxing his muscles.
Another chapter in the city's hottest rivalry.
Omar Carter, who dressed for success (and a birthday celebration) in a tuxedo finished with 19 points. Charleston Southern was in the building seeking his signature. … Seth Curry had 20 points. …
Also in attendance were former North Carolina players Al Wood and Brian Reese. Plus, Pat McCrory, the mayor of Charlotte, made an appearance. …