Knoah Carver played his freshman and sophomore seasons for Mike Craft at Ardrey Kell High School. He transferred to Charlotte Country Day for his junior year, where he averaged 18 points, six rebounds and two assists.
When Carver decided to return home for his senior season, he texted Craft on his iPhone and, well, let’s him tell you what he said.
“I told him the main reason I wanted to come back was because I knew we had a chance to win the state championship,” Carver said Tuesday, after Ardrey Kell upset nationally ranked North Mecklenburg 65-62 in the N.C. 4A Western Regional championship game, “and I wanted to get him one. And now we’re exactly where we want to be.”
The Knights (10-0) will play Raleigh’s MIllbrook High School in Saturday’s state final. Milbrook (18-0), which features Louisville recruit Eric van der Heijden, beat Lumberton 79-77 in overtime in the eastern regional final.
Ardrey Kell will go back to the state championship game for the first time since 2015, when Knights star Steven Santa Ana set a state finals record with 44 points in a 70-64 loss to Garner. And, this time, Carver wants to get his coach -- long seen as one of the state’s best -- a state title ring to go with his reputation.
“We’ve been talking about this all summer,” Carver said, “and we were hoping that there would be a playoffs or a season, and we’re taking advantage of it, and going out there and fighting our hardest and (this) is where it has gotten us so far.”
Tuesday, Ardrey Kell didn’t hold a lead of more than seven points but kept the lead most of the game, thanks to 23 points from Carver, 18 from Elijah Gray -- a Carmel Christian transfer -- and 22 combined from Evan Smith and Peyton Gerald.
The Knights couldn’t do much with North Meck 6-8 junior center Jeremy Gregory (25 points, 18 rebounds), but Gregory did much of his damage in the first half.
In the second, he didn’t get the ball much.
“We tried to dance around the post and make it look like he wasn’t open,” Craft said. “He’s a load and he’s a great player. If he gets position on you, he’s got great hands and can score it off the backboard. We just tried to make it tough on him, and Peyton Gerald did a great job of really trying to dance in the post and make sure he didn’t get position on him.”
Davidson recruit Chris Ford had 16 points for North Meck (12-1), which was named a co-champion in the 2019-20 season after qualifying for a state final that wasn’t played due to the coronavirus pandemic.
And the Vikings had two chances to take the lead in the final 17 seconds. They also had a 3-point shot to tie the game at the buzzer.
None went in.
That sent Ardrey Kell, a decided underdog, to the finals again.
“That’s all we really talked about before the game,” Carver said. “We knew we were the underdogs from the start, and even with the season we had, everybody was still talking about North Meck as if (they were going to the championship and) they weren’t going to even play us. We kept talking to each other. We kept saying, ‘We know we can go out there and beat them.’”
Hendersonville 75, North Lincoln 57 ... The Knights bid for their first basketball state championship berth came up short with a loss to the top-seeded Bearcats. It marked the final game for a trio of North Lincoln seniors who led the team this season. Cole Seagle scored 21 points, averaging 25 points during the postseason. Samari Collins added 14 points, and Daniel Carter finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
Lincoln Charter 64, Mount Airy 54 ... The Eagles captured their first state title berth in four years with a fourth-quarter rally. Mount Airy led 49-48 early in the final period, but Lincoln Charter went on a 10-2 run for a 58-51 lead with two minutes remaining. Lincoln Charter won the title in 2017.