NOTE: The following story originally appeared in the March 17, 2014 edition.
The Freedom boys basketball team's motto all season was "play angry."
How can they possibly be angry anymore?
The No. 2 seed West Regional champion Patriots (31-1) never led on Saturday until it mattered, falling behind by 12 points in the first quarter and 13 in the third quarter of Saturday evening's 3A state championship game against No. 3 seed Wilson Hunt at the Dean E. Smith Center.
But a Kasen Wilson elbow jumper with just less than 3 seconds left completed a Freedom comeback in a wild 59-57 win which sent eighth-year coach Casey Rogers sprinting onto the court in celebration.
"Tonight just kind of summed up the year," Rogers said. "We played 32 games, and in 30 of them we've been the smaller team.
"Earlier in the year, we kind of stole a phrase from Wichita State. We talked about playing angry. We wanted to get where we needed to by playing basically eight, nine guards throughout the year. And I thought down the stretch, we epitomized playing angry, getting things done the Freedom way.
"Our toughness all year ... I'm just really proud of them."
Like the Weddington game in the regional semifinals the Saturday before, Freedom won despite being outrebounded by double digits (36-26). This time the Patriots were the ones forced to rally though.
But just like that game, Freedom found itself tied with about 30 seconds left and the other team in possession of the ball.
Freedom's Jeron Hemphill dunks duriing the 2014 state title game.
The decision was the same: ball pressure in the backcourt. And just like last time, the move worked, as Hunt (25-4) was whistled for a double dribble near midcourt with 18.2 seconds remaining.
"Like Weddington, we decided we were not going to let them hold for a last shot," Rogers said. "If we didn't get anything, we had a couple guys we had targeted to foul. But we got the double dribble, and from that point on, it was the same setup in terms of our offensive play call at that point.
"We ran a ball screen, and Kasen stepped up and made the game winner. ... (Kasen) is a folk legend in Morganton now."
Wilson said he nearly didn't shoot on the play.
"I shot faked," he said, "and I was going to pass to Gabe (Logan) because I heard him call my name. Then I looked up at the clock and just shot it."
Senior Khris Gardin said the game was eerily similar to the Weddington victory.
"It was just like an exact replica," he said. "We got the stop, coach called the play."
Rogers has now been part of two of the Pats' three all-time state crowns. He was a senior point guard the last time Freedom won state in 1997-98.
Freedom's 31st win breaks a program record set by the last championship squad 16 years ago.
From 47-34 down with 3:07 left in the third quarter, the Pats' largest deficit of the game, the margin was sliced to 50-42 after three periods when senior Chris Bridges banked in a straightaway 28-footer at the buzzer.
Patriots coach Casey Rogers reacts after a play against Weddington in the 2014 NCHSAA 3A West Regional semifinal.
Two straight turnovers forced by Freedom fullcourt pressure made it 52-49 midway through the final period.
The margin went back to 55-49 until Bridges' fifth 3-pointer of the contest with 2:12 left.
A Logan drive and three-point play and Jeron Hemphill putback tied the contest with 39 seconds remaining and set up the frantic finish.
Bridges (game-high 19 points, five rebounds) was named Charlie Adams championship game MVP, while Logan (11 points) was named Freedom's Most Outstanding Player of the game.
Wilson had 12 points on 4 of 6 shooting from the field, and Gardin added 11.
It was truly a team molded in Rogers' image, from one champion to now another.
"No matter what had happened, nobody can take away the memories and experiences this team has shared, especially today," Rogers said. "From a coaching standpoint, it was very satisfying.
"Small and fast has worked really well for us. It goes back to our toughness."
Read more from the original source:
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