"There were so many subplots to tonight's game," Eastern head coach John Moon said. "Us playing an undefeated team [ranked No. 1 in the state], Drew Williamson versus [his cousin] JamesOn Curry, quickness versus no quickness, size versus no size."
Not to mention the baseline presence of North Carolina head coach Matt Doherty, watching his two future Tar Heels.
The game began at a rapid-fire pace, and would stay that way throughout, as highlight plays and flaring tempers kept the crowd (which included a large number of Cummings fans who had made the trek from Burlington) at a feverish pitch.
"It was a high-paced game," said Williamson, a Cummings senior who will walk-on at UNC next fall. "We usually try to outrun other teams, but in the first half they were outrunning us."
Eastern kept the game close, trailing 27-22 after the first quarter. Curry, a highly touted junior who committed to UNC last summer, picked up two fouls in the first three minutes, but stayed on the floor and continued to play aggressive. After scoring 10 first-quarter points, he struggled from the field, shooting 3-for-9 from the field in the second quarter, as Eastern fell behind 50-42 at the half.
A Curry three-pointer cut the lead to five out of the break, but Cummings' size and speed started to become an insurmountable obstacle and the lead quickly grew. By the time the blur-of-a-third-quarter was over, Eastern trailed 80-62 and the game's outcome was no longer in question. Curry was held scoreless during the heart of the Cummings run.
"Their strength is their quickness and their rebounding and those were the two things that hurt us," said Moon, whose team allowed 28 offensive rebounds. "We fought all night long, but they were better than we were tonight. They take you out of some things with their quickness."
With the outcome pretty much in hand, Curry added 22 fourth-quarter points and finished the evening with 41 points, shooting 16-for-33 from the field, including 3-for-11 on three-point attempts and 6-for-9 from the free throw line. He also collected five rebounds, three steals, two blocks and six assists, with six turnovers.
"I know he's going to put his numbers up – he's going to get 30 or 40 a night because he's a great scorer," Williamson said of Curry, whom he guarded on occasion. "Tonight I think we did a pretty good job defensively on him – we tried to throw a lot of people at him."
Always with a fresh defender in front of him, Curry forced the issue at times, taking some shots that he'd probably like back, but the prolific scorer left no question – if he wants to get a good shot off in a one-on-one situation, he can get it every single time.
Cummings coach George Robinson decided not to focus his game plan on the seemingly impossible task of completely stopping Curry, and rather concerned his team with utilizing their advantages.
"JamesOn's a terrific ball player – he can do it all," Robinson said. "We're going to play him honest and if he gets 40 I'm going to pat him on the back and tell him he did a good job. Not to take anything away from him, but we just play our game and if he gets to hurting us too bad, we'll just have to grin and bear it. I'll give him 41 and we win by 20 – I'll take that."
The game was supposed to be a battle of cousins, as Curry scored 40 points a year ago against Cummings, but was bested by Williamson's 45 points. But not this year.
"A lot of shots weren't falling for me tonight," said Williamson, who totaled eight points on 4-for-15 shooting, including 0-5 on three point attempts. "When that happens you try to do the other things that can help your team win. I was trying to step up my defense, and pass the ball to find the hot hand."
And that hot hand belonged to his teammate T.J. Gwynn.
The sophomore wing earned recognition a year ago with MVP honors in the state championship game as a freshman, and Monday night he was the most impressive performer on the court.
"He can be as good as he wants to be," Robinson said of Gwynn, who posted 22 points, eight boards and a good number of assists. "Not many people have an answer for T.J. when he comes and plays. When he doesn't, he's an average player."
He was far from average in this game, showing an uncanny knack for finding teammates, while also exploding to the hoop or stepping out to drill three-pointers. The only drawback to his game is that he stands just 6-foot-3 – give him a few more inches and the top schools in the nation would without a doubt be knocking at his door.
"He's gotten inquires from from Wake Forest, NC State and North Carolina," Robinson said. "A lot of people know him, but he's got two more years."
But back to Williamson, a big-time scorer who has transitioned to point guard duties.
"Drew's the team leader," Robinson said. "Whatever we need him to do, he's good at doing it. Tonight it was about running the show – if we need Drew to get 30, he's more than capable – but tonight I thought he did a good job of getting everybody involved. We've got four or five players who can get 20 points, so we want to make sure everyone is getting touches. Drew's done a good job of finding people in a position where they can do something with it.
"I have a lot of respect for him because he's sacrificed a lot of his offense this year for the benefit of the team, and that's just a testament to the type of person he is."
And further limiting his scoring is a deep knee bruise that has slowed him the last couple of weeks and isn't likely to fully recover until the offseason.
"It's taken my explosiveness away," Williamson said, "but I'm trying to work around it and get used to it."
Robinson said, "He's not extremely explosive, but he's got a very good first step and by having the knee injury he can't really push off and be as quick as he'd like."
But even with the injury Williamson had deceptive quickness with the ball. And, unlike his cousin, he's got a thick 5-11 build that gives him a strength advantage. It was admittedly an off night from a scoring standpoint, though, with his long-range shots not falling and his impressive drives through the Eastern defense to the hoop going for naught as a number of tough layups in traffic rolled out.
Williamson officially decided a couple of weeks ago that he would decline some mid-to-low major offers and attend North Carolina without a scholarship. He said he has a clear understanding of his expectations as a UNC basketball player.
"I'm just going in to backup [Raymond] Felton – if he's in foul trouble or gets tired," Williamson said. "I've been watching games and he's one of the best players I've ever seen shake [defenders]. I'm just going in to work hard at practice – just work hard and maybe get a couple of minutes."