The Independence Patriots ran up against a buzz saw when they played the #1 seed North Mecklenburg Vikings on a neutral court at Hough High School where the Huskies play their home games.
There was a large crowd on hand from both schools and you could feel the excitement in the arena as the tip-off approached at 7:30 pm. The Vikings blew away the Patriots in the season opener 79-55 at North Mecklenburg. Indy has steadily improved throughout the season and many expected a very competitive game as Independence had won their second and third-round games convincingly. They entered the game at 22-7 overall, and 12-2 in the scrappy Southwestern 4A Conference. Indy had big wins against Myers Park and Porter Ridge for the conference title prior to the state playoffs.
After earning a 1st round bye being the #4 seed, in the 2nd round, Indy took down Richmond Senior, in the next round beat a good Huskies team. However, the Vikings proved to be too strong and deep with a talent for the Patriots who advanced to the Elite Eight after an early 2nd round departure last season since winning the state championship in 2017-2018.
In the first period, after the Vikings Jeremy Gregory scored off a rebound, Verdier was fouled and made 1-2 free throws. Omarion Bodrick followed with a tap-in and Indy was up 3-2 early. However, Tristan Maxwell drilled a 3-pointer and followed with a layup to put the Vikings ahead to stay at 7-3. Indy’s leading scorer Anthony Allen who entered the game averaging 16.1 points per game swished a 2-point jumper from the top of the key getting the Patriots to within five at 10-5. However, with 3:52 remaining, Allen took what seemed to be a harmless 3-point shot that went halfway down the rim and bounced out, he came up lame and limping on what looked like a knee injury. He would not return to action as he walked slowly off into the locker room with the trainers.
Divine Allah would drill a 3-pointer getting Indy to 14-8 with 3:00 minutes remaining. Verdier scored on a baseline drive, Jalen Hinton nailed a 3-point jump shot, then that man Verdier was fouled by Gregory on a power drive to the hoop. He proceeded to hit both free throws to get Indy within three points at 18-15. However, at the buzzer, Gregory grabbed another rebound and banked a shot off the backboard at the buzzer giving the Vikings a 20-15 edge.
In the second period, the game continued to be a very competitive contest. The Vikings opened up to a 26-17 lead before Verdier would swish a 10-foot jump shot. But these Vikings were relentless, they ran up the next six points taking a 34-19 lead. The Patriots De’Drick Givens aggressively grabbed a rebound and made a power move past Chris Ford to make the score 34-21. Givens followed with another layup to get the Patriots to 34-23. Allah then scored on a reverse layup followed by the “Big O” who was fouled and made both free throws cutting the lead to 34-27. Hinton was fouled and made 1-2 free throws getting Indy to 34-28 with 20 seconds remaining. Maxwell would score for the Vikings with 1.6 seconds on the scoreboard clock giving the home team a 36-28 advantage at the intermission.
In the third frame, the Vikings took control of the basketball game outscoring the Patriots 24-11 to open up a 21 point commanding lead. Verdier scored three baskets for Indy, while Hinton hit a 3-pointer, and Lee Harrington contributed a basket fighting for a rebound and putting the ball back up for two points off the bench. Meanwhile, the Vikings hit four 3-point shots during the period to continue their dominance.
In the final period, the two teams exchanged baskets Verdier kept Indy competitive running up and down the court. He added 8 points and grabbed several rebounds in an outstanding effort before being removed with 2:58 remaining in the contest. As of note for Indy in the final minutes, junior Zaire May drilled a 3-pointer from deep in the corner to get the Patriots to within 72-53 with 2:27 remaining in the game. Sophomore Landon King would make 1-2 free throws for Indy, while the Vikings scored the next five points to secure the 77-54 victory that was never in doubt.
Nygell Verdier led the scoring for Indy with 26 points and 9 rebounds, while Omarion Bodrick grabbed 9 rebounds and contributed 7 blocked shots in the contest playing excellent defensively.