Pinson powers Wesleyan past HPCA
In recent years, the Wesleyan Christian Academy and High Point Christian Academy boys basketball games have always meant something — usually with both teams highly ranked and contending for the PACIS crown. But never so late in the year and with so much on the line.
In their first-ever meeting in the playoffs, the top-seeded Trojans once again played well against the fourth-seeded Cougars, using a second-quarter run to build a double-digit lead and hanging on late, to win 59-52 on Friday in the NCISAA 3A state semifinals at Charlotte Latin.
Wesleyan, reaching the state finals for the first time since 1999, will face the winner of Friday’s late game between No. 2 Christ School and No. 3 Greensboro Day, another PACIS powerhouse, tonight at 8 at Providence Day in search of its first championship since 1993.
“We started off the year humble and hungry,” said Trojans guard Theo Pinson, one of the country’s highest-rated junior recruits. “And we’re still hungry. ... It just feels good. We know they wanted it, and we wanted it. We’re just going to try to bring it home tomorrow.”
Pinson was a big reason why Wesleyan advanced Friday, scoring a game-high 30 points. His eight straight points — including back-to-back 3-pointers — during a critical 13-2 run helped the Trojans (22-5) break from a 14-14 tie to lead 27-16 with 2:35 left in the second.
“The key was just us being resilient like we have been all year,” Wesleyan coach Keith Gatlin said. “We never worry rankings or any of that — we just play basketball. The kids played hard. That’s a really tough team, and we really had to work hard to beat them.”
High Point Christian (26-7), which hasn’t quite been able to figure out Wesleyan in three hard-fought losses this season, trailed 28-20 at halftime and, despite falling behind as many as 13 in the third, still trailed by eight, 45-37, heading to the fourth.
The Cougars, led by Jackson Kent with 13 points and Diante Baldwin with 11, rallied within two with 3:55 left, but they couldn’t quite make the play to spark that one final push they needed. The Trojans hit 8 of 10 free throws over the final four minutes to inch away.
“It’s just a matter of us needing to execute what we wanted to do all along,” said HPCA coach Brandon Clifford, who credited Pinson for his strong performance. “When we did those things, we were in the game and the second time we played them we were winning the game.
“We struggled all year putting all 32 minutes together; we struggled to have a game where everyone was clicking at one time. It’s frustrating and obviously disappointing, because I thought we had a really good basketball team. It was just one of those years.”
JaQuel Richmond also had 12 points while Harry Giles added seven for Wesleyan, which got 16 points from Pinson and eight from Giles in its win Thursday against Ravenscroft. Mike Kobani also had nine while Isiah Gill had eight for the Cougars.