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CHAPEL HILL — The 3-point shots, particularly in the third quarter, rained down upon the Greene Central High boys basketball team with alarming regularity during Saturday’s North Carolina High School Athletic Association 2-A championship game inside the Smith Center.
By the end of the third quarter, Marshville Forest Hills had constructed its largest lead of the game at 49-39.
But for a Rams team making their first appearance in a state championship game, a double-digit deficit didn’t cause them to fold.
Greene Central roared back to force a tie with 3:51 remaining and remained within one possession until the final minute. However, Charlie Adams Most Valuable Player Jai Rorie hit four key free throws in the final 14 seconds, enabling the Yellow Jackets, not the Rams, to snag their first state championship with a 63-59 victory.
Greene Central, which entered the postseason as the No. 2 seed from the Eastern Carolina Conference and No. 9 out of 32 East Region qualifiers, ended its season at 26-7, one game shy of a state title.
Forest Hills, in avenging its only other appearance in a state championship game — a 1964 loss to Hildebran — ascended to its 30th win against two losses. The 2-A Rocky River Conference Yellow Jackets held on in the closing minutes despite connecting on 12 of 27 attempts from the 3-point line, outscoring the Rams 36-6 beyond the arc.
“I don’t think we lost a basketball game today,” fourth-year Greene Central head coach Charles Harris said. “I think they (Forest Hills) won a basketball game today. When you come out and shoot 12 3-pointers and make them, I think they shot, what 40-something percent from the 3-point line? It’s tough, and if I go back and look at film, I’m willing to say most of them were contested or have a hand in the face.”
The Rams withstood seven 3-pointers from the Yellow Jackets in the third quarter, four from Rorie. But the Rams immediately began attacking the paint — an area where they outscored Forest Hills by a 2-to-1 margin at 28-14 — to close to within four on a layup by junior Imajae Dodd, a layup from senior point guard DonQuez Davis and a jumper by senior Tyquan Williams.
Forest Hills briefly stemmed the tide with a layup from point guard Jaleel McLaughlin, but Greene Central tied it for the final time with a second 6-0 spurt. Torrence Clark, a senior who finished with a double-double in his final game, dropped in a layup, Davis hit a short jumper and junior Donte Johnson was fouled and hit a pair of free throws to bring the Rams level.
Clark’s second-chance putback with 2:07 moved the Rams within a point at 56-55 and brought a large contingent of Greene Central fans to their feet. But on the next possession, Forest Hills ran a back-door cut behind the Rams’ defense, allowing McLaughlin to lay it in for a three-point lead with 1:44 to go.
Forest Hills was held without a 3-point basket in the fourth quarter as Greene Central mounted its final rally. The Rams finished 21 of 46 from the field for 45.7 percent accuracy, while Forest Hills was 19 for 45 for a 42.2-percent clip.
“I felt like we had to win that game multiple times with how they kept fighting and came back at the end,” Forest Hills head coach Matt Sides said. “They made us make free throws, and they were a really tough matchup for us. But I can’t say enough about these kids right here. They’re really good basketball players, and they’re better people because of how they treat each other and how they love each other and how they let the coaches coach them.”
With Greene Central trailing 59-55, Davis made a pair of free throws with 14 seconds to go. Rorie, who finished with 22 points on 6-of-15 shooting, hit two foul shots for a four-point lead with 13.6 seconds showing.
The Rams quickly pushed the ball, and after Davis rushed a 3-pointer, Dodd grabbed the rebound and put it back in with just seven seconds left. But Forest Hills inbounded again to Rorie, who calmly made two more free throws for the final margin. Rorie’s six field goals were all 3-point baskets, and his 4-for-4 showing from the line came inside the final 13.6 seconds.
“We practice free throws every day in practice,” Rorie said. “(Sides) gives us a challenge, and I think that helps us a lot.”
McLaughlin had 16 points for Forest Hills. Trey Belin, the Most Outsanding Player for the Yellow Jackets, had 10 points and five rebounds.
Four players had double-figure outings for Greene Central, with Davis and Clark each netting 12. Clark, the MOP from the East Regional champions, led the Rams with 11 rebounds. Dodd had 11 points and seven rebounds as Johnson had 10 points.
Clark picked up his play in the extended absence of Dodd, who picked up his second personal foul with 2:11 left in the first quarter and sat until halftime. In what was a flashback to the 2017 2-A East Regional final against Jacksonville Northside, Greene Central started slowly, trailing 8-0 in the early stages before rallying to forge a 10-10 tie after one quarter. The Rams led for the final time at 30-28 on Clark’s third-quarter floater with 4:57 showing.
For a five-member senior class of Davis, Rhaheem Edwards, Clark, Williams and Javon Edwards, bringing the Rams back from the depths of losing as freshman did not end in a state championship. Nevertheless, all assured the culture has changed around the Rams’ program.
“When (Harris) got here, we just wanted to work,” Davis said. “We knew that Greene Central really wasn’t a basketball team. They didn’t have anything to show for basketball, so we just wanted to come in with, grow with him and work with him. We just wanted to start fresh and we were able to build our way up.”