Trinity Christian rallies to beat HCYA, advance to title game
Posted December 27, 2013
Updated December 28, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — Prior to this year, just two boys' basketball teams from Fayetteville had competed in the 41-year history of the HighSchoolOT.com Holiday Invitational, and neither had won a game. Saturday night at Broughton, Trinity Christian will play for a championship.
The Crusaders defeated Houston, TX Homeschool Christian Youth Association 82-73 on Friday night in the second round of the Summit Hospitality bracket to advance.
"This is a great win because it's here, and this is the first time we've been able to come to this tournament," said Trinity head coach Heath Vandevender.
Rallying back from an eight-point fourth-quarter deficit, the Crusaders got 30 second-half points from starting sophomore Dennis Smith Jr. The phenomenal performance accounted for more than half of his team's total scoring, and he finished with 42 points on the night.
"I was always told that big-time players make big-time plays," Smith Jr. said. "Whenever you're on the big stage, it calls for a big performance."
On the other end of the floor, 6-foot-8 North Carolina recruit Justin Jackson scored 42 points of his own in the loss. Prior to Friday in the history of the HSOT Invite, there had never before been two 40-point performances in one tournament. Friday's game saw two in one game.
Trinity's offensive onslaught began early in the game when Smith Jr., along with Lee Moore and Alonzo Tyson, scored 19 points for the Crusaders in the first quarter and helped the team to a 19-11 lead entering the second period.
The Warriors from Texas took over in the second quarter behind Jackson's scoring. HCYA led 36-33 at halftime.
HCYA widened the gap in the third period to take a 54-49 lead. At the start of the final quarter, the Warriors' Elijah Lee knocked down a three-pointer from the corner to put his team up eight points.
The Warriors did not score another point for three minutes as the Crusaders began a 14-0 run to take the lead. Smith Jr. and Jackson went back-and-forth in the final minutes of the game to add to their giant scoring totals, but Trinity was able to put the game away at the foul line in the final minutes to seal the victory and earn a berth in the bracket's title game.
"Each team has a different identity, and we'll try to take this team and go as far as we can and get the most out of this group of guys," Vandevender said.
Smith Jr. shot 4-for-8 from beyond the arc in the win and made 12 of 13 free throws, many of which came in the last few minutes of play. He also added six assists. Tyson finished the game with 13 points and sophomore Kwe Parker scored ten points.
"In the fourth quarter it got away a little bit," said HCYA head coach Leonard Decker. "Dennis Smith Jr. just started feeling it. The boy couldn't miss and he really just kind of took over that game. I think he made the difference down the stretch."
Being a sophomore, Smith Jr. is not a highly-recruited player and had very attention entering the tournament. After 22 points against Hammond in his team's first game and 42 more in the second round, this has all changed.
"My Twitter was blowing up," Smith Jr. said. "It's crazy. I got a whole bunch of phone calls."
For HCYA, Jackson finished with 10 rebounds to go with his 42 points. J.J. Decker added 18 points for the team.
Trinity will face Virginia Carlisle in the Summit Hospitality bracket championship Saturday night at 7 p.m. HCYA will face Massachusetts Wilbraham & Monson for third place in the bracket. Their game will be played Saturday at 2:30 p.m.
Follow Zach Mayo on Twitter at @ZachMayoHSOT