Carmel Christian School (N.C.), which remained unbeaten at 20-0, earned its championship berth with a hard-fought 67-62 verdict over Buford (Ga.) in Saturday night’s semifinal round at Viking Hall.
In the evening’s second semifinal, Bearden overcame a slow start to upend Wenonah (Ala.) 69-61.
The winners meet Monday at 6:30 p.m. to determine the tourney champ.
Carmel Christian, whose five starters are committed to Division I programs, is ranked among the top 25 basketball schools in America. The Cougars hail from Matthews, N.C., a suburb of Charlotte.
As usual, Carmel won this one with defense.
Down 58-56 with 4:44 to play after Buford’s 6-foot-6 Marcus Watson hammered a breakaway dunk, the Cougars turned their trapping defense up a notch and forced five straight empty possessions for the Wolves (10-1).
Meanwhile, the Cougars got to the line and hit 6 of 7 free throws, one of which capped a three-point play for DeAngelo Epps.
The 8-0 run left Carmel up 64-58 with 1:06 to play.
Myles Pierre, a 6-3 guard headed to Houston Baptist, fueled the decisive spurt and finished with a team-high 20 points. Epps, a 6-5 forward committed to the College of Charleston, added 16 for the Cougars, and 6-5 Liberty commit Marten Maide kicked in 10.
Pierre hit three of Carmel’s 10 makes from beyond the arc, and Epps and Maide two each.
The Cougars trailed just that one time and held advantages of 21-8 after one quarter, 36-24 at halftime and 56-45 at the end of three periods.
The Wolves were paced by the 22-point game of the supremely gifted Watson, who will play at Oklahoma State. Eric Coleman, a 6-6 forward who’s headed to High Point, scored 13.
Buford plays Wenonah in Monday’s 5 p.m. consolation game.
BEARDEN GETS IT DONE
Bearden overcame a sluggish first quarter and owned the second half in its win over Wenonah.
Down 23-14 after eight minutes, the Bulldogs (11-3) got back to within 32-31 by halftime before assuming control over the final two quarters.
Bearden took its first lead 46-44 with 41.5 seconds left in the third quarter, when Trent Stephney hit four straight free throws after getting hacked on a drive to the hoop — a play that provoked Wenonah to commit a technical foul in protest.
The Bulldogs eased away from there. Ques Glover scored 25 points to pace Bearden. Stephney had 18 and Roman Robinson 10.
Cameron Tucker put up 16 points to pace the Dragons (17-3) from Birmingham.