Here’s what you might’ve missed over the holiday break in Chatham sports

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For many, the holidays are defined by quality time with loved ones, cheerfully recognizable tunes and sweater weather.

But in high school basketball circles, this time of year is home to one of the sport’s biggest staples: holiday tournaments.

While many other students are taking time away from school for winter break, basketball players are spending a good chunk of it in the gym — practicing, preparing and playing.

In Chatham, eight local teams took the time to participate in holiday tournaments across the region, with some claiming their respective tournament titles and others coming away empty-handed.

Here, the News + Record recaps all of the winter-break basketball action from around the county, including info on any holiday tournaments you might’ve missed.

Chatham Charter Winter Slam

Chatham participants: Chatham Charter men (3-0), Champions

Dates: Dec. 20-22

Location: Chatham Charter School

# of particpants: 4

Knights’ Team MVP: Beau Harvey (freshman)

Chatham Charter went into its annual Winter Slam tournament at 10-1 on the season and came out with a 13-1 overall record, a clean sweep of its opponents and the 2021 Winter Slam title.

The Knights downed the Neuse Charter Cougars (62-39), the Cornerstone Charter Cardinals (83-51) and the Research Triangle Raptors (60-59) to go unbeaten in the round-robin-style tournament.

It didn’t take long for the Knights to flex their depth, with four players in double figures — including junior Aamir Mapp, who led the team with 13 points — in the tournament-opener against the Cougars.

They followed it up with another blowout, this time of the Cardinals, with the sibling duo of junior Adam Harvey (21 points) and freshman Beau Harvey (16 points) combining for 37 points en route to the team’s 2-0 start.

Two games in, the Knights had outscored their opponents 145-90 and were rolling.

Then came the last game of the tournament against the Raptors, who were also unbeaten entering the Slam’s final day.

“The first two teams gave us a little bit of a challenge, just different looks, but then we got into that championship game with Research,” Jason Messier, the Knights’ head coach, told the News + Record following the tournament. “And we knew it was going to be a battle.”

Chatham Charter had seen Research Triangle in the second game of the season — the Knights won, 58-45 — so they knew what they were up against: the Raptors’ “incredible half-court trapping defense,” said Messier.

The Knights were ahead by 10 at one point in the first half, but the Raptors hung around and fought back to make it a one-point game heading into the fourth quarter.

But despite the Raptors’ speed, athleticism and undeniable defensive intensity, the Knights were able to squeak out the one-point win, 60-59, in the playoff-like atmosphere thanks to a few huge plays in the final period.

“We were ready for that playoff atmosphere,” Messier said. “My guys loved it. They soaked it up. And there were moments where we did show our inexperience and our youth, but they executed down the stretch to pull out that victory.”

Beau Harvey was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player as the Knights’ youth movement continues to flourish. Their other big-named freshman, center Brennen Oldham, nearly had a triple-double with blocks (8 points, 10 rebounds, 7 blocks) in the title game.

First Bank Charger Classic

Chatham participants: Northwood women (2-0), Champions; Chatham Central women (0-2)

Dates: Dec. 28-30

Location: Northwood High School

# of participants: 8

Chargers’ Team MVP: Olivia Porter (senior)

Bears’ Team MVP: Kailey Green (junior)

It’d been three years since Northwood began hosting the First Bank Charger Classic.

Yet, over the first two installments, the Chargers came away empty-handed, watching Apex Friendship lift the banner on their home court in both 2018 and 2019.

This year, however, the Chargers made a statement with two emphatic, double-digit wins over the Southern Durham Spartans, 68-42, and the Southern Alamance Patriots, 55-40, to claim the 2021 First Bank Charger Classic title.

Northwood’s opening game against the Enloe Eagles was cancelled due to a COVID-19 issue within the Eagles’ program, meaning it automatically advanced to the second round, where the Chargers had a face-off with former conference mate Southern Durham.

The Chargers allowed just 16 points in the opening half against the Spartans while simultaneously scoring 43 points of their own, culminating in a 27-point first-half lead.

Northwood senior transfer Olivia Porter — the team’s leading scorer on the season, averaging 19.9 points per game — led the team with 26 points as the Chargers routed the Spartans with a strong second half.

“Olivia played well,” Kerri Snipes, the Chargers’ first-year head coach, told the News + Record. “She was aggressive on defense and was able to finish on the other end with a lot of steals. She was also tough getting to the basket.”

The Chargers then found themselves in a familiar spot: the Classic’s final round.

Their opponent, Southern Alamance, had narrowly eked out an overtime win against the Athens Drive Jaguars in the semifinals, 44-43, and were undoubtedly sluggish, scoring just 12 points in the first half against the Chargers.

Meanwhile, Northwood was on an offensive tear to start the championship game, ripping off four of their seven total 3-pointers in the second quarter en route to a whopping 41-12 lead at the break.

“As the coaching staff, we try to tell the girls, ‘Each game starts at the tip-off, so bring that energy and intensity from the tip,’” Snipes said, “They’ve really kind of bought into our philosophy that defense is going to win games.”

But in the second half, their offensive production tapered off as the Chargers got cold, scoring just 14 points compared to the Patriots’ 28.

Luckily for the Chargers, their early lead gave them enough insurance to avoid a late-game Patriots comeback, earning them their first-ever First Bank Charger Classic title as they finally became the team to hold up the banner at mid-court.

“I tell them, ‘We always need to protect our home court,” Snipes said. “We definitely want to defend the court that we get to play on each day in practice. So they definitely did a good job of coming out and being ready to play despite some of the changes in scheduling.”

On the Chatham Central side of things, the Bears finished the tournament with an 0-2 record after losing their first-round game to Athens Drive, 56-30, before falling to the Garinger Wildcats, 46-24, in their consolation game.

Junior Kailey Green was the lone Bear added to the Classic’s all-tournament team for her performance.

John Wall Holiday Invitational

Chatham participants: Northwood men (1-1), 3rd place

Dates: Dec. 23-30

Location: Raleigh

# of participants: 4 (24 overall)

Record: 1-1

Champion: Asheville Christian

Chargers’ Team MVP: Fred Whitaker Jr. (sophomore)

The John Wall Holiday Invitational is one of the most prestigious holiday tournaments in the country, showcasing not only some of North Carolina’s top programs, but also an assortment of top-tier teams from around the nation, which come together for nearly a week of wall-to-wall basketball in Raleigh.

In this year’s tournament, 24 teams — including six teams from California, Florida, Maryland, Mississippi and Virginia — took the stage across the Invitational’s four brackets (named after four different N.C.-born players).

Northwood — making its first-ever appearance in the Invitational, which has now seen 49 installments — was a member of the four-team Coby White bracket, where the Chargers were knocked out in the first round by a familiar opponent, the Terry Sanford Bulldogs, in a 49-46 thriller, ending their tournament run before Christmas.

The Chargers battled back from a 5-point deficit entering the fourth quarter thanks to big games from their stellar sophomores, Fred Whitaker Jr. (18 points) and Drake Powell (17 points), but couldn’t finish the job despite having an opportunity to tie it with less than 5 seconds remaining.

Even in defeat, however, the Chargers still found a way to see the positive in being one of just 18 teams from N.C. to receive an invite to the Holiday Invitational.

“It’s the first time in school history that we were asked to be a part of (the Holiday Invitational) and I know the boys were thrilled because they grew up watching it and the players that were in it,” Matt Brown, the Chargers’ head coach, told the News + Record. “It was just a really cool experience and a real blessing for us. ... It was a lot of fun.”

The Chargers followed up their loss in the third-place game against the Callaway Chargers (Mississippi), where they battled back from a 12-point deficit for a 61-52 overtime victory to claim third place in their bracket.

Whitaker Jr. — who also made the all-tournament team — had 22 points and 6 steals in the win, being named Hoop State’s “Star of the Game” for his performance as Northwood finished the tournament on a high note.

“We’re very fortunate because not all teams have a true point guard who can score and can defend on-ball,” Brown said. “He’s probably one of our hardest workers. ... This year, he’s really stepped up, he’s gained a lot of confidence and that experience last year helped him out big time.”

The Chargers wrapped up their trip to Raleigh with a 1-1 record, but after being shorthanded due to illnesses — which they didn’t find out until the morning of the Terry Sanford game — and playing as tough as they did against some of the country’s best, it’s left Brown and his team with plenty of high hopes.

“I learned that we were deeper than I expected because, going in, I thought maybe six or seven guys could play, but now I’m leaning more toward eight or nine guys can play and that’s going to help out,” Brown said. “We’re pretty resilient, coming back from a deficit in both games and winning one and almost winning the other says a lot about the group. ... These guys will keep fighting.”

North Iredell Holiday Classic

Chatham participants: Seaforth women (1-2)

Dates: Dec. 28-30

Location: North Iredell High School

# of participants: 8

Champion: Langtree Charter (women)

Hawks’ Team MVP: Gabby White (freshman)

The Seaforth women’s basketball team competed in the North Iredell Holiday Classic, making the nearly two-hour trek to Olin for the three-day tournament.

The Hawks won their opening game against the South Iredell Vikings in a close one, 52-49, but struggled mightily in a 44-28 loss to the Mooresville Blue Devils, followed by a narrow loss, 36-31, to the North Iredell Raiders in their consolation game.

The star of the show for the Hawks was freshman guard Gabby White, who racked up 25 points — nearly half of her team’s scoring — in their first-round game against the Vikings, adding 11 rebounds in the process.

In fact, White produced double-digit rebounds in all three of the Hawks’ holiday contests, including 12 boards against the Blue Devils and an impressive 16 rebounds against the Raiders.

Her scoring slowed down in the Hawks’ two losses, giving way to sophomore Peyton Collins (13 points vs. Mooresville, 11 points vs. North Iredell) to make her presence known on the offensive end.

At about the season’s midpoint, the Hawks have a 5-5 record (2-0 in the Mid-Carolina 1A/2A conference) with a few of their losses coming against some of the state’s top teams (Northwood, 11-1; Grace Christian, 18-1; Apex Friendship, 11-1).

So while Seaforth’s record on the young season is as middle-of-the-road as you can get, their youth’s ability to compete with teams much larger than them is a sign of good things to come.

Randolph-Davidson Christmas Classic

Chatham participants: Jordan-Matthews women (2-1); Jordan-Matthews men (1-2)

Dates: Dec. 27-29

Location: Providence Grove High School

# of participants: 16 (8 women, 8 men)

Champion: Randleman Tigers (women); Central Davidson (men)

Jets’ Team MVPs: Eillia Wright (senior) and Maggie Thornton (junior), women; Rayshawn Alston (senior), men

As the old adage goes: it’s not about how you start, it’s how you finish.

That’s the motto for the 2021-22 Jordan-Matthews women’s basketball team halfway through the season, which has seen the Jets start slow on a few different occasions before gaining their footing and finishing strong.

The same could be said for their performance in the 2021 Randolph-Davidson Christmas Classic, played in the gym at Providence Grove High School last week, when the Jets lost their opening contest to the Central Davidson Spartans, 66-29, before rattling off two straight wins in consolation play against the Lexington Yellowjackets, 45-43, and the Asheboro Blue Comets, 39-37.

“To get the two wins against 3A competition and 2A competition and then also playing against Central Davidson, which is pretty good and in 3A, the level of competition helped us a lot,” Lamont Piggie, the Jets’ first-year head coach, told the News + Record over the weekend. “It’ll prepare us for the second stretch of the season.”

In the opener, Jets senior Eillia Wright — who Piggie named his team’s co-tournament MVP — scored 17 of her team’s 29 total points in the 37-point loss to the Spartans.

Central Davidson made a living out of getting to the charity stripe against J-M, shooting an impressive 25 for 33 (76%) from the free-throw line as one of the primary reasons for their blowout victory.

However, after the Jets “didn’t show up like we were supposed to” in their first-round matchup, said Piggie, they bounced back the following day in their first consolation game against Lexington, where Wright dropped another 17 points and junior Maggie Thornton added 15 of her own to seal the narrow win.

Even more impressive than the win for Piggie, though, was his team’s ability to overcome Wright’s second-half foul trouble to stay afloat and fend off a late Yellowjackets comeback.

He praised Thornton for being able to “step up big for us” while Wright wasn’t on the floor.

“It was a collective effort from the whole team,” Piggie said. “Maggie helped carry us in the second game when Eillia was out and kept us in it.”

In the Jets’ second consolation game and their final game of the tournament, they faced off against Asheboro, the defending 3A state champions, in a low-scoring battle.

Wright (21 points) and Thornton (12 points) led the charge in a game that Piggie called “closer than it should’ve been,” acting as the only two Jets in double figures and combining for 33 of the team’s 39 total points.

Through 10 games, J-M has a 4-6 record, sitting at just a game under .500, which is a positive for a team that started the season 1-5 with four losses of 36 points or more.

“The key is to have confidence because last year, (this team) won one game, but we’re at four right now, so that’s excellent for them,” Piggie said. “You’ve just got to keep working, you can’t let up.”

As for the men’s team, it may not have won the Randolph-Davidson Christmas Classic — or even finished above .500 — but by the end of it, the Jets might have done something even more important: discovered who they are.

“I think we found our identity in the tournament,” Rodney Wiley, the Jets’ head coach, told the News + Record on Monday. “To make some noise in the conference this season, we just have to come out and play J-M basketball and stick to hat and go out and compete every night.”

The Jets finished their three-day trip to Providence Grove with a 1-2 record after losing their first two games to the eventual champion Central Davidson Spartans, 87-60, and the Randleman Tigers, 54-37. They rounded out the tournament with a victory over the West Davidson Dragons, allowing them to leave Climax with a win under their belts.

Against the Spartans, the Jets got off to a slow start, unprepared for their pressure-filled defense, which forced J-M to make plenty of mistakes and turn the ball over early.

“We got behind early and they hit open shots, they hit all of their threes, it seemed like,” Wiley said. “They’re a really good basketball team. Real, real gritty, just played hard. They kind of knocked us on our heels to start off and we just had to fight back to compete in that game.”

The script was a little different for their Day 2 game against Randleman, where Wiley said his team “played them pretty good starting out,” but hit a brick wall as a lid was seemingly placed over the Jets’ basket and they struggled to produce offensively.

The Tigers, who were up by just 8 points at halftime, pulled out to an eventual 17-point lead, putting a pin in the Jets’ attempt at a comeback.

Then, even after losing two straight, the Jets had to get up for an early morning game against the Dragons, earning a hard-fought win.

“It’s hard to get up for an early morning game, but I just told the guys, ‘We’ve got to come back and compete because what you do now in this last game toward the end of the year is going to propel us going into the new year,” Wiley said. “And we went out and really played hard that game and were able to come up with a victory.”

Wiley said he was impressed with the way his seniors, Rayshawn Alston and Colby Daniel, along with one of his two juniors, Dallas Richardson, played despite the results.

For Wiley, his team’s experience at the holiday tournament might have been what they needed to compete in their final 11 games of the regular season, which includes eight conference games.

“(In the tournament) we learned that if we just run our offense and be patient, we can get the shots we want,” Wiley said. “And just dig down defensively. Keep guys in front of us. Play man-to-man defense … just get back to who we are.”

Yellow Jacket Christmas Classic

Chatham participants: Chatham Charter women (0-2)

Location: Lee County High School

Dates: Dec. 27-29

# of participants: 7

Knights’ MVP: Tamaya Walden (junior)

Chatham Charter was a last-minute entry into the Yellow Jacket Christmas Classic, hosted by Lee County, which — aside from the 1A Knights — consisted of two 3A schools and four 4A schools.

In short, the Knights had their work cut out for them against schools much larger than them. And they held their own.

They finished the tournament with an 0-2 record with losses to the Willow Spring Storm, 56-46, and the Western Harnett Eagles, 64-62, both games that came down to the wire.

However, the team’s inability to come out on top in either game could be credited to its usual shortcomings.

“Basically, it comes down to the same things in every game we’ve lost: our turnovers, our rebounds and our fouls,” Jeff Patterson, the Knights’ head coach, told the News + Record on Monday. “We got in foul trouble (against Willow Spring) and we didn’t do the fundamental stuff we needed to as far as boxing out.”

Chatham Charter also struggled with their offensive aggression against the Storm, drawing contact at an alarmingly smaller rate than Willow Spring.

When it was all said and done, the Storm shot 25 free throws to the Knights’ six.

“We haven’t gotten to the point where we’re really aggressive on the offensive end,” Patterson said. “It’s like we’re afraid of contact … it’s like I tell the girls, ‘You’ve got to be aggressive and make the referee call it.’”

At the end of the third quarter, the Knights were down by just one point, 39-38, but fell apart in the fourth quarter, scoring just eight points as the Storm pulled away and sealed the double-digit win.

The following day, the Knights faced off against the Eagles and suffered yet another late-game collapse.

At the end of the third period, Chatham Charter held on to a 10-point lead, 46-36, but as Patterson described it, “it seemed like the wheels fell off” and the Knights lost their footing in a quarter filled with poor fouls, turnovers and lost rebounds.

The Eagles were able to send it into overtime, where they’d take the close win, 64-62.

“Overall, I was pleased with the way we played,” Patterson said. “We fought. And for us to be a 1A school playing against 2A and 3A schools, it should help us out come playoff time.”

In the Knights’ consolation game, junior point guard Tamaya Walden scored 29 points on 45% shooting from the field. Patterson called her “the glue to the team” and named her the team’s Most Valuable Player for the tournament.

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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