Zach Mayo

Trinity Christian representing an entire city in HSOT Invite finale

Posted December 28, 2013

The Holiday Invitational is in its 42nd year. In that time, the historic tournament has seen a wide array of winning teams. Some teams caught audiences by surprise while others were led by future stars of the NBA. None of the teams were from Fayetteville, North Carolina.

Prior to this year in the tournament's history, only two boys' basketball teams have ever come from Fayetteville to compete. Both teams played in the 90s, and neither won a game.

Fast-forward to this year's tournament, and not only have the Trinity Christian Crusaders won--they've won their first two games to advance to the championship game of the Summit Hospitality bracket.

The Crusaders don't have a future Tar Heel. They don't have a seven-footer, and despite winning a state championship in 2011 and making it to the title game again last season, Triangle-area audiences knew little about the identity of the team before the start of the week. With the field stacked the way it was, it was easy to overlook the Crusaders. But with two big wins against talented HSOT Invite teams, Trinity has quickly jolted the spotlight in its direction.

It began when the team took the court against Seventh Woods and Hammond on Thursday night. Trinity showcased its aerial attack by soaring above the rim throughout the game, and while the most noise of the contest came in the final eight minutes when Woods pulled off the remarkable feat of nailing seven three-pointers in one quarter, the crowd was just as engaged when Trinity connected on countless alley-oops, displaying its superiority and sailing to a 79-65 win.

In Friday night's game, Trinity stuck with the theme of the unexpected when, trailing by nine points to Houston, TX Homeschool Christian Youth Association and North Carolina recruit Justin Jackson, sophomore guard Dennis Smith Jr. broke out for 30 second-half points and a team-high 42 points in the end to snag an 82-73 win.

In the press conference after the game, HCYA head coach Leonard Decker said he knew nothing about Smith Jr. entering the tournament, other than the fact that he wore the number four on his jersey.

Now two days deep in the tournament, Trinity will no longer come as a surprise to other coaches or players--no matter how many late points a specific player decides to put up. Smith Jr. has 64 points through two games. The 6-foot-2 sophomore is seeing his stock rise in each minute he plays.

Kwe Parker, Trinity's other 6-foot-2 sophomore guard, has already made a name for himself. Ranked third in North Carolina's Class of 2016, he already has offers from Clemson and Virginia Tech. Parker scored 10 points in the Crusaders' win over HCYA.

Alonzo Tyson, a 6-foot-8 junior, also contributes solid minutes to the Trinity lineup. The big-man will be called upon during Saturday's championship game when he faces 7-foot sophomore Thon Maker, the star of Virginia Carlisle. The one-on-one match-up between these two players will be a crucial component of the title game.

Lee Moore and Kylia Sykes are also focal points of Trinity's team. Moore adds more scoring for the Crusaders and Sykes is oftentimes used to guard talented scorers on opposing teams.

The Shavlik Randolph bracket championship game will be played at Broughton High School's Holliday Gymnasium on Saturday night at 7.

Trinity is in the company of a 1992 Terry Sanford team and a 1999 Douglas Byrd team as the only other Fayetteville squads to play in the HSOT Invite, though the Crusaders have already far surpassed their hometown predecessors. The pieces they bring to the court, the buzz they have already drawn and the anticipation of their championship appearance on the tournament's biggest stage has truly given the city something to rally around.

Follow Zach Mayo on Twitter at @ZachMayoHSOT


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