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Charlotte guard scorches Volunteer for 41 points, 19 boards

Bill Lane • Dec 27, 2007 at 12:00 AM

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Volunteer unwittingly discovered the best basketball player in the 2007 Arby’s Classic Thursday night.

He’s 6-foot-5, 215-pound guard Dego Pena of Charlotte High School, located in Punta Gorda, Fla.

Pena, a native of the Dominican Republic, put his many talents on display at Viking Hall in a 94-65 victory over the Falcons.

Pena scored a tournament-high 41 points, pulled down 19 rebounds, had four assists and a steal and dunked four shots for the Tarpons.

Volunteer’s standout guard, Keith Cradic, scored his usual 28 points but was overshadowed by Pena’s spectacular performance.

“There’s nobody around here like him,’’ Volunteer coach Todd Whittemore said. “Charlotte has a really good team, plays hard and is unselfish.’’

Charlotte coach Tom Massolio, a former Tusculum College player, confessed his star could be much better.

“Dego wasn’t hitting outside shots tonight,’’ Massolio said. “Once he does start making those, he’ll be tough to stop — very dangerous.’’

All eyes were on Charlotte’s No. 10, who showed more moves than a go-go girl. The crowd applauded his every step.

For nearly 29 minutes, Pena was gliding, leaping, shooting and flipping fancy passes. It was almost as if he his legs were pogo sticks.

Hitting from every conceivable angle, Pena sank 16 of 27 floor shots. Six of the misses were from 3-point range. He retired to the bench with 3:07 remaining and had his highest total in a Charlotte uniform. He averages 22.8 points and his previous high was 33 with the Tarpons He once scored 64 in an organized game back home in the Dominican.

Baseball scouts were all over Pena a few years ago. Despite his tender age, he could pitch a ball 92 mph.

“In my country I played every sport,’’ the 18-year-old Pena said. “My dad wanted me to play baseball but my mother told me to go for basketball. I came to America to play basketball — the game I love.

“My ultimate goal is to play in the NBA.’’

He’s headed for Florida Atlantic. “Dego has family in that area,’’ Massolio said.

Charlotte’s No. 2 player, Chris Stephenson, fired in 21 points.

Aaron Bennett scored 14 for the Falcons, carrying his team until Cradic could find the range.

Charlotte (9-3) lit the scoreboard with fast-break layups. “We should not have allowed that many sprint-outs,’’ Cradic said. “We let down in the first quarter. We’re all kind of embarrassed at the way we played.’’

Bennett said Volunteer (6-5) had a slow start and a poor finish. “We couldn’t put it together in the first and fourth quarters. We let (the Tarpons) have too many dunks.’’

Massolio liked his school’s first appearance in one of the South’s premier holiday tourneys.

“We played with a lot of energy. It was great for our kids to be in this atmosphere,’’ he said. “We didn’t shoot that well but we did some good things in transition. Several of these kids have played nationally in AAU ball — they’ve been in exciting environments before.’’

Charlotte outrebounded the Falcons 46-34.

“We wanted to go zone and contain Pena,’’ Whittemore said, “but we didn’t block out. Our role players didn’t step up at all. We had seniors sitting back watching. I’m very disappointed.

“When Keith and Aaron shot, we should have had guys sprinting to the backside for rebounds.’’

Charlotte opened a 13-2 lead and seemed in total command at 27-10. But Volunteer stubbornly resisted being overrun and got the margin down to six points at 43-37 early in the third quarter. Critical turnovers kept the Falcons from battling into contention.

Volunteer will face Dorsey of Los Angeles, Calif., at 1:30 p.m. today in the losers bracket.

Charlotte advances to play Urspring, Germany, at 9:30 p.m. in the winners-bracket semifinals.

Dobyns-Bennett will take on Gate City at 10:30 a.m. in a game of extreme interest despite its losers-bracket status.

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