By Marc Pruitt
RALEIGH–As Winston-Salem Prep was putting the finishing touches on a 70-46 win against Pamlico County on Saturday at Reynolds Coliseum, the realization–and the emotions– that came with winning the fifth NCHSAA 1-A state championship in school history started to set in.
Senior guard Daivien Williamson, just before coming out of the game to a rousing ovation, flashed a broad smile and pointed to the Prep fan section that made their way from Winston-Salem.
Coach Andre Gould removed his glasses on the bench and wiped away the tears that accompanied his pride.
Once the final horn sounded and the celebration began with a group championship hug on the court, senior K.J. Watson removed himself from the mix and was on his hands and knees at mid-court, letting his happy tears seize the moment.
And once the team accepted the state championship trophy, it was difficult to pry from the hands of senior Justice Goodloe.
Williamson, who spent all four years on the varsity team, was named the game’s Most Outstanding player after scoring 27 points, dishing out two assists, and recording four steals.
Watson was named the West Region MVP after scoring nine points and grabbing eight rebounds.
Junior Chaz Gwyn finished 12 points and 10 rebounds and helped ignite a scoring run for the ages for the Phoenix, who closed its season by winning its last 24 games.
It was the first state title for Prep (27-3) since 2014. And after losing in the championship games in 2015 and 2016 and being eliminated in the Western Regional semifinal last season, bringing the championship trophy back to Prep was the team’s top priority this season.
“Tough players win—that’s what the game is about now,” Gould said. “A championship is earned, not given. And we had to take the fight to them today because those guys played hard.”
Pamlico rocketed to early leads behind Lamont Murray, who scored 17 of his team-high 20 points in the first half as the Hurricanes built a 30-28 lead at halftime after his half-court shot at the buzzer.
Pamlico used a 7-0 scoring run to take a 42-37 lead with 1:56 left in the third quarter, but that’s when Prep woke up.
Gwyn ignited a 10-0 run to end the third quarter by drilling a 3-pointer with 1:45 left, then capped the run with another 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter as Prep took a 47-42 lead.
The scoring run wasn’t nearly over.
Prep scored the first 13 points of the third quarter as Gwyn drilled another 3-pointer and Corey Rutherford (eight points) drained two as the lead swelled to 60-42 as part of a 23-0 run the bridged the third and fourth quarters.
Prep closed the game on a 33-4 scoring run, allowing Pamlico to score just 16 points in the second half—with only four coming in the fourth quarter.
“After a sluggish first half, I knew we hadn’t played our best basketball and I thought they were in the game because we weren’t hitting shots and that we didn’t match their intensity at all,” Gould said. “I don’t think they paid attention to our scouting report, because I told them, they are feisty, and they play hard and crash the glass. More importantly, there’s a reason why they are here. They are here because they are good enough to be here and it’s not by accident. At halftime, I told them that they (Pamlico) had played at a high level, but that we hadn’t played at Prep level yet. So, if we got to Prep level, let’s see if they can match our intensity. And let’s see if they can play at our level consistently. I knew somewhere along the line that it was going to click. I was just hoping that it wouldn’t be too late.”
Pamlico made 48 percent of its shots in the first half, including 4 of 5 3-pointers, while Prep struggled by shooting 36 percent on 9 of 25 shooting, including 2 of 12 from behind the 3-point line.
Prep changed defenses in the second half, ditching its man-to-man in favor of a zone trap that extended to half-court, which forced 11 turnovers that led to 21 points for the Phoenix.
“We started playing defense, that’s the main thing,” Williamson said. “We kept our composure and came out strong in the second half. It took us a little while to get going, but once we did, we were playing at the level we knew we were supposed to be playing at.”
For Williamson and Goodloe, who were vital cogs for the Phoenix for four years and experienced the heartache of losing in the title games in 2015 and 2016, winning was especially sweet for them.
“I definitely like to see Justice smile,” Williamson said. “Anyone who knows Justice knows he’s real laid back and he doesn’t do much smiling. To see him smile after this game just made me so happy. He’s really my brother and is somebody we did this for. I’m happy we got this done.”
Goodloe, who finished with four points and five assists while battling foul trouble most of the game, was happy to put the negative memories of losing twice in the championship game behind him.
“We lost twice trying to get this before, so this is pretty nice,” Goodloe said. “It’s the perfect way to go out.”
For Watson, his emotion was manifested by his journey. He played on the JV team as a freshman and was disappointed that he didn’t make the varsity team as a sophomore.
“I remember exactly what Coach Gould told me, he said ‘you’ll benefit down there’”, Watson said. “Being in the tenth grade at the time, my ego got in the way. And I thought that I wasn’t going to get what I want here. I wanted the red carpet laid out for me. I went home that day and my dad told me that ‘sometimes, you just have to figure stuff out and you can’t always run away from your problems.’ And that changed my whole perspective. It changed my whole career.”
And for Gould, winning his fifth state title at a program that he started when the school opened in 2004, is the source of great honor.
“We will savor the moment,” Gould said. “Winston-Salem Prep is the greatest program in the state of North Carolina right now, without a shadow of a doubt. I can say that and mean it.”
Pamlico: Lamont Murray 20, Jones 9, Columbus 2, Baron 9, McGirth 2, Misa 4
W-S Prep: Daivien Williamson 27, Chaz Gwyn 12, Zach Austin 8, K.J. Watson 9, Justice Goodloe 4, Corey Rutherford 8, Jalen Crawley 2