Rebels drop heart-breaker at buzzer

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CALYPSO - The trap developed perfectly in the corner and North Duplin head boys’ basketball coach Ricky Edwards could foresee a turnover.

Don Tyrell had other ideas.

The Neuse Charter guard escaped trouble and found teammate Eli Ayres wide open on the perimeter. Ayres squared up, drained the game-winning 3-pointer with 1.1 seconds remaining and propelled the Cougars past the Rebels, 61-60, on Tuesday evening.

It was the season opener for the Carolina 1A rivals.

Edwards tipped his hat to Ayres, who logged 10 of his 13 points in the final quarter. 

“We were just trying to keep them from having an open look,” Edwards said. “I thought we might get it [on the trap] and they got it out to him. [He] just hit a big shot. Have to give him credit.”

Ayres’ bucket capped a 23-point quarter for the Cougars, who trailed by double digits for 29-plus minutes.

North Duplin opened in a 1-2-2 press and seized command early. If the Rebels didn’t get out in transition, they either crashed the boards defensively or attacked on the offensive end.

“I thought we played well early and I thought our press worked well early, too,” said Edwards, whose team led 17-7 after one period.

Caden Dail’s steal and layup gave North Duplin its biggest advantage, 26-11, with 5:18 left before halftime. The Rebels managed one bucket the rest of the way and entered the locker room ahead 28-21.

Dujuan Armwood provided most of North Duplin’s offense in the third quarter. Despite a nagging leg injury, he knocked down 13 points - including a 3-pointer after the Cougars had pulled to within 40-38.

“I thought we were gassed,” Edwards said.

The Rebels maintained a two-possession lead in a tightly-contested final quarter. 

Ayres’ 3-pointer gave the Cougars their first lead, 54-53.

Armwood’s old-fashioned three-point play pushed the Rebels back in front, 56-54. Christian Powell’s offensive putback extended the margin to 60-56 with 84 seconds left in the game.

The Cougars converted a turnover and later rebounded a missed free throw with 14.4 seconds to go. That set the stage for Ayres, who buried the visitors’ 10th - and decisive - 3-pointer as time expired.

“Their best player,” Edwards said.

Armwood emerged as the game’s top scorer with 26 points. Teammates Christian Powell (14 points), Matthew Coltren (13) and Dail (10) each turned in a double-digit performance.

North Duplin (0-1) visits Lakewood on Friday.

“We’ve got to continue to improve,” said Edwards, who has just eight players on his roster. “Tonight was our 11th time together. [We] have to keep working at practice and in games.”  

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