CHATHAM — The Hargrave Military Academy postgrad basketball team won the 2015 First Piedmont Corp Invitational after beating Fork Union 84-81 in the championship game Saturday afternoon.
The game was the third between the two teams this season, and the third time the game came down to the wire. Fork Union hosted the first game and won 95-87 in overtime, and Hargrave has hosted the last two, winning 79-78 in the first meeting.
It was clear by the size of the crowd that the fans were expecting another classic.
The stands were a sea of green as part of a Green Out to promote recycling awareness, and the student section was as rowdy as ever, armed with green noise makers.
“I don’t believe there is a better place to play in the country,” said Hargrave coach A.W. Hamilton. “Hargrave is the best. We have great fans, great administration, teachers, faculty and staff. This is a special place and I’m just so proud to be a part of it.”
And the game lived up to the hype.
In the first half Hargrave finished with a 48-38 lead after getting out to a hot start shooting. 20 of its 31 shots in the first half came from behind the arc, and Hargrave converted on 50 percent of them to grab the lead.
“I hate to say it but we kind of live and die with the three,” said Hamilton. “In the first half we go 10-for-20, and I still felt like we had some threes that we should have made. We work on it every day, the guys get up extra shots every day, my coaches are in the gym non-stop with them. That’s Hargrave basketball.”
But Hargrave cooled off in the second half, only connecting on four three-pointers, and Fork Union slowly chipped away at the lead.
With 8:15 left in the game Fork Union only trailed 69-63. But each time it looked like Fork Union had grabbed the momentum, Hargrave would answer.
Tyrone Taylor had two notable plays down the stretch.
The first gave Hargrave a 72-63 lead, as he hit one of his four threes in the game despite getting fouled on the play.
Then a few plays later Scott Meredith got a steal and found Taylor streaking to the basket, and, to the delight of the crowd, Taylor threw it down to push Hargrave’s lead to 76-68. He finished with a team-high 22 points on 50 percent shooting.
Danjel Purifoy also filled out the stat sheet for the second straight game, recording a double-double with 19 points, 10 rebounds, three steals and a couple blocks.
But it was Jon Davis standing out down the stretch.
“Jon has become a great leader on and off the floor,” said Hamilton. “Late in the game we want to go to him. There’s not a day that goes by that he hasn’t jump-started every practice that we have with his energy, effort and enthusiasm. So late in the game we go to him and we all believe in him.”
In the final minutes, with a slim 80-77 lead, Davis made big plays on both the offensive and defensive end.
He scored the team’s last four points, including two clutch free throws, to finish the game 7-of-7 from the line. He ultimately had 21 points, six rebounds and three steals.
Trailing 84-81 Fork Union had one final chance to tie the game, but a contested triple was the best look it could get, and the ball rattled off the rim to give Hargrave the win.
With the regular season over, Hargrave will now prepare for the 2015 National Prep Championship at Connecticut College March 10 and 11. Its first game is against Putnam Science Academy, a team it lost to earlier this season, with tip-off at 11:45 a.m. on March 10.