The stage was set for the NCISAA Coastal Plain Conference Championship. Wayne Country Day (20-2) hosted Greenfield (11-4) for the conference title on Friday night in Goldsboro. It’s never easy to beat a team three times in a single season. So you knew it was going to be a battle all night.

Columbia signee, Jaden Cooper started the game off with a drive and a basket. Wayne Country Day struck first, but Greenfield responded as usual. CJ Alston set the tone for Greenfield on both sides of the ball. He knocked down a catch and shoot midrange jumper, then followed that up with a coast-to-coast layup after grabbing the defensive rebound, and then drilled a three-pointer for his seventh point in the opening quarter.

Vante Hutcherson also started off hot for Wayne Country Day. The 6’9 forward was tough to contain on the glass and when he would attack the basket. Once he caught the ball off the left block, spun off the defender to the left, drove it baseline for the dunk! It was a big time move and finish. Hutcherson scored six points and grabbed three rebounds in the opening quarter before getting into foul trouble throughout the rest of the game.

Wayne Country Day held onto a 21-18 lead at the end of the first quarter. If the opening quarter was any indication of how close of a game this would be, we were in for a treat. And it sure was.

To open up the second quarter, CJ Alston once again knocked down a catch and shoot three for Greenfield. The lefty has a smooth shooting stroke and did a really good job all night of making plays.

Dre Ervin made his presence felt for Wayne Country Day. He was an absolute beast on the glass and he was finishing strong in the paint. He had a huge second quarter for Wayne Country Day. He nearly had a double-double of 14 points and 9 rebounds in the first half.

Although Greenfield has several underclassmen, they didn’t panic when they got down. They continued to make plays as a team. Aaron Murphy has seemed to always respond when his team needed a basket throughout the season, and he did so again tonight. Greenfield was able to take the lead as Justin Holland knocked down two three-pointers in a row. The second make was assisted from Hampton Evans as he grabbed the rebound, pushed it in transition, and found Holland on the drive and kick.

Greenfield took the lead in the second quarter and went into halftime up 42-36.

The third quarter started with Wayne Country Day’s Mike Best hitting a catch and shoot three-pointer, one of his three on night. He has a smooth shooting stroke to go along with the ability to create off of the bounce and find teammates at the end of drives.

Jaden Cooper’s younger brother, Jordan Cooper, also got in on the action. He went coast-to-coast for the layup. And then, Jaden Cooper found Dre Ervin on the dump down pass against the zone for the layup. But Greenfield didn’t waiver. On the following possession, Greenfield’s Hampton Evans hits a three. And then Aaron Murphy hits a three-pointer as well for Greenfield.

In this third quarter, freshman Hampton Evans really asserted himself. After hitting the three-pointer, he also finished a strong drive at the basket, drawing the foul, and connecting on the free throw for the and-one. And then moments later, he found CJ Alston for the catch and shoot three-pointer in the corner.

Just when it seemed like Greenfield was beginning to take control of the game, Wayne Country Day answered. Jaden Cooper responded with back-to-back triples. And then on the defensive end while guarding the ball, he deflects the pass, comes up with the steal, wraps it around his back beating his defender in the open court, and goes down the court for a smooth, crafty finish to take the lead at 55-54. Jaden Cooper was spectacular all night, but that third quarter he put on a show, scoring 16 of his 25 points.

But just like that, Greenfield answered again. Hampton Evans finds Aaron Murphy on the high-low pass for the finish and the and-one. Greenfield was back in the lead at 57-55.

As the third quarter was ending, Aaron Murphy knocked down the midrange jumper to extend the lead, but on the buzzer, Jaden Cooper drilled a three-pointer just in front of half court. Greenfield led just 67-65 after the half court buzzer beater.

The fourth quarter was back and fourth to begin with, setting the stage up for an exciting final eight minutes of basketball. Jaden Cooper grabbed the defensive rebound, pushed it in transition, and found Mike Best for the layup to tie the game up to start the quarter. But Greenfield’s Aaron Murphy responded on the following possession with a put-back off his own miss. Wayne Country Day then comes down the court and Vante Hutcherson drove it down the lane for the dunk to tie the game back up at 69-69. Greenfield followed that up with a Hampton Evans baseline drive and drift pass to Justin Holland for the corner three to put Greenfield back on top at 72-69.

With Greenfield up 75-71 after an Aaron Murphy and-one, Wayne Country Day answered the challenge. Wayne Country Day went on a 12-0 run to take the lead 83-75. This run started as Jaden Cooper found Mike Best for the three-pointer. Wayne Country Day did an incredible job of sharing the basketball, assisting on four of the five field goals during this run.

This run was the difference in the game. Wayne Country Day was now in complete control. Vante Hutcherson had a vicious put-back dunk. Then Mike Best forced the steal and finished with a dunk of his own on the other end. And to top it off, a few possessions later, Jaden Cooper grabbed the defensive rebound, passed ahead to Carlos Raven, who then lobbed it back up for Cooper to emphatically finish the game with the alley-oop dunk.

Wayne Country Day finished with the 94-79 victory in the conference tournament championship game after finishing the game on an 23-4 run.

Final Stats: Wayne Country Day
Dre Ervin – 26P, 14R, 2B, 1S
Jaden Cooper – 25P, 16R, 7A, 3B
Mike Best – 18P, 4R, 4A, 1S, 1B
Vante Hutcherson – 10P, 4R, 1A
Carlos Raven – 8P, 4A, 1R, 1S
Jordan Cooper – 7P, 5R, 3A

Final Stats: Greenfield
Aaron Murphy – 31P, 10R, 1B
Hampton Evans – 19P, 5R, 5A
CJ Alston – 15P, 3R, 3A
Justin Holland – 9P, 1R
Tychaun Clay – 7P, 7A, 5R, 1B, 1S

Let’s take a closer look at some of the game’s standouts from each team.

Player of the Game: Jaden Cooper

Jaden Cooper was nothing short of spectacular! He was incredible all night long, finishing with a ridiculous double-double of 25 points, 16 rebounds, 7 assists, and 3 blocks (just 3 assists shy of a triple-double). From the opening tip to the final buzzer, he impacted the game in so many ways. He scored. He facilitated. He defended. He rebounded. What stuck out to me most was his leadership and unselfishness. He always remained poised even when his team was down. He made a beautiful extra pass to Carlos Raven at the end of the second quarter, giving up an open shot of his own for a better shot for a teammate. When it was time to take over from a scoring perspective he did. He scored 21 of his 26 points in the second half, 16 of those coming in the third quarter. He scored from all three levels consistently. He finished strong at the rim, got to the midrange, and knocked down four three-pointers both off the catch and the bounce. He has a bright future ahead of him. Cooper is going to have a wonderful career at Columbia.

Surprise Player of the Game: Dre Ervin

Dre Ervin was so vital to Wayne Country Day’s success. He finished with the double-double of 26 points, 14 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1 steal. He stepped up and provided a strong interior presence. He was a beast on the glass on both ends of the floor. He grabbed several offensive rebounds. He finished strong through contact, using his body to power up through defenders.

Wayne Country Day’s Balanced Attack: Mike Best and Vante Hutcherson

Junior guard Mike Best finished with 18 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal and 1 block. He played a complete game, scoring from multiple levels and with efficiency. The quick, shifty guard showcased his perimeter shooting with his smooth jumper. He knocked down three three-pointers on the night. He also got out in transition where he finished at a high level. In addition, he did more than just score. He was able to create off the bounce, get into the paint, and make plays for others.

Although senior forward Vante Hutcherson got into foul trouble, he finished with 10 points and 4 rebounds. He made some really impressive plays throughout the course of the game. In the first quarter, he had the spin move when he caught it off the left block, drove it along the left baseline and finished with the big time dunk. In the fourth, he tied it up with the strong drive down the lane finishing with the emphatic dunk. Then later, he had the put-back dunk which pretty much sealed the win. What impressed me with him was that although he got into foul trouble and eventually fouled out, he stayed engaged in the game, and whenever he was in, he made momentum changing plays that contributed to his team’s success.

Greenfield’s Standouts: Aaron Murphy, Hampton Evans, and CJ Alston

Aaron Murphy simply gets it done for this Greenfield team. He always answers the call. When they need a big play, he usually comes up with one. He finished with the double-double of 31 points, 10 rebounds, and 1 block. From start to finish, he made his presence felt. He was getting to the cup and finishing strong through contact, something that he does very well. He knocked down shots from the midrange and from three. Greenfield has the chance to make a deep state playoff push with Aaron Murphy playing as well as he has.

Freshman Hampton Evans plays with toughness and physicality that you don’t see from many players, let alone someone who is in his first year of high school. He attacks the basket strong and isn’t afraid of contact. He embraces it, and does a great job of finishing through defenders. In addition, he can really shoot the basketball. He had a really nice shot fake, slide dribble three-pointer as the defender rushed out at him. He also has a really good feel for the game and makes the right reads. He looks for the open man. His baseline drift pass at the beginning of the fourth quarter is a next level pass. One can fully expect him to have a bright future ahead of him.

Sophomore guard CJ Alston was also very good for Greenfield. He finished with 15 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists. The lefty does a great job of creating off the bounce. What impressed me the most was his poise and decision making. He has the physical tools and athleticism to be a really good player. Combine that with his feel for the game, he is definitely one to keep an eye out for. He has a nice shot from the perimeter. He is able to get into the paint and finish or find open teammates at the end of drives.