Boys basketball: North Cobb Christian 65, Whitefield Academy 45

The No. 1-ranked North Cobb Christian boys basketball team proved to Whitefield Academy for the second time this season that it is the new team to beat in Class A, but for the second time this season the defending state champion didn’t go down without a fight.

Kendall Crute scored 10 of his team-high 27 points during a 15-4 run late in the third quarter as North Cobb Christian slowly pulled away for a 65-45 victory in a Region 6-A Division B game at North Cobb Christian on Friday.

North Cobb Christian (18-2, 10-0), which won the first meeting between the teams 47-39 on Dec. 14, remains alone in first place in the subregion. Whitefield Academy (5-5, 9-8) is No. 16 this week in the private-school points system that will determine the teams that will make the playoffs. Only the top 16 will qualify.

“It’s still Whitefield Academy, and do they ever play hard,” North Cobb coach Greg Matta said. “That’s just their tradition, and they come after you.”

North Cobb Christian’s lead was just 34-33 when Whitefield Academy’s Berto Dryden scored on a layup with 4:54 to play in third quarter. Keyshawn Butts answered with a 3-pointer to push the Eagles’ lead back to four points, and then Crute took over. He scored consecutive baskets on short jumpers and hit a 3-pointer to make it 44-35, then made a free throw and a layup in the final 40 seconds of the quarter for a 49-37 lead. Whitefield Academy got no closer than nine points the rest of the way.

Crute scored 16 points in the second half and was one of three Eagles to finish in double figures. Stephon Jelks scored 13 points and Hunter Ware had 10.

“I think Kendall had something to prove to me because during the first half he fouled a 3-point shooter as he made it,” Matta said. “He and I had a few words, and I think he was going to show me who was the boss. He took over, and he made some big-time plays. He literally said, ‘Give me the ball. It’s time to get this thing going.’”

Whitefield Academy kept it close throughout the first half by forcing turnovers and beating North Cobb Christian to rebounds and loose balls. Eric Lockett was a big factor as well, scoring Whitefield Academy’s first eight points and 10 of his team’s 12 points in the first quarter. He finished with a game-high 29.

“There was never a true flow to the game,” Matta said. “I felt comfortable, but there was just no flow to it. It was a very unusual game to coach.”

Whitefield Academy (45): Dryden 13, Lockett 29, Pollard 2, Byrd 1, Martin, Myles, Kerr, Phillips.

North Cobb Christian (65): Ware 10, Jelks 15, Crute 27, Weems 3, Terrell 7, Butts 5, Towne, Wracher, Ho-On, Bollinger.

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