The Independence Patriots basketball team moved one step closer to the North Carolina High School Athletic Association state tournament last Monday night, with a narrow first-round playoff win against the RJ Reynolds High School Demons.
The game was close and hard-fought the entire time, with the final seconds deciding the outcome, 74-73 in the Patriots’ favor.
RJ Reynolds (12-15) came into the game averaging less than 60 points per game, compared to Independence’s (23-5) Southwestern 4A Conference title season and scoring average of 66.5.
Independence won the tip-off, and strong defense on both sides made scoring difficult in the first quarter, but Independence held on to the early lead, ending the quarter with a score of 21-15, in Indy’s favor.
Indy started to pull away during the second quarter, but strong defense and a nine-point string of baskets by RJ Reynolds brought them within one point at halftime, 35-34, Independence.
The game intensified in the second half, and the score was close throughout, Indy’s lead never more than five points.
Strong, active defense kept RJ Reynolds in the game, and by the end of the third quarter, Indy was holding on to their lead, 57-53.
The final quarter was the only one the Demons scored more points than the Patriots, but it wasn’t enough to take back the lead, and the Patriots won by one in an intense finish.
With one minute left in the game, the score was 68-66 in Indy’s favor, and after two free throws from Herbert Bowen, Jr., Indy was up by two more. But a three-pointer from RJ Reynolds’ Michael Wolfert brought the Demons back to within one point, 70-69, with only 36 seconds left, when Independence junior Tayon Gleaves is fouled and goes to the line, scoring two more.
Fouls and free throws went back and forth at the end of the game, with Bowen making two free throws in the final seconds to put Independence up by three.
RJ Reynolds got the ball inbounded and under their basket, but were only able to make a two-pointer as time ran out and Independence advanced to the next round.
Scoring for the demons was led by junior Hanif Bilal and senior Tariq Scott, and for Independence, Gleaves and senior Ivan Blair led, with 15 and 17 points.
Independence voted Herbert Bowen Jr. player of the game, with 13 points, six assists, a steal, and some very clutch free throws in the final moments of the game.
Next, Independence will play Davie High School, who won their first playoff game against East Forsyth 66-59.