CHARLOTTE – Since the calendar flipped to 2019, the Ardrey Kell boys basketball team has come on strong, winning nine of the past 11 and five in a row after recently dispatching of South Meck and Harding.
The 66-49 win over South Meck was payback for the Jan. 4 Sabre win. The only other loss during that stretch came to Olympic, the So. Meck 7 conference leader the Knights trail by a couple of games in the standings, who won 50-45 on Jan. 18. That was the loss that star junior guard Luke Stankavage said has set up their recent run of success.
“The next day, we went back to work the next day and said, ‘We’re not losing again,’” said Stankavage, who leads the team with his 17.7 scoring average. “We want to go on a winning streak and have some momentum going into the state tournament.”
That seems to be exactly what the Knights are doing.
In the win over South Meck, the Knights came out more focused early and jumped to an early 9-4 lead.
Even down several rotation guys for a variety or reasons, the Sabres hung with Ardrey Kell through the first half and led 27-26 at the break. But the Knights regrouped in the locker room. When they took an early 30-29 lead, they never looked back. Stankavage scored 10 of his game-high 19 points in the decisive third quarter that turned a Sabre one-point lead into a 49-39 Ardrey Kell advantage.
“I think the zone bothered them a little bit and we were able to rebound the ball better out of that,” said coach Mike Craft. “They were ready for us. (South Meck coach) John (Fitch) does a great job. (Sophomore forward Joseph Ferrante) inside hurt us some in the first half. He’s going to be a really good player, and we don’t have much size so that hurt us a little bit in the first half.
“But we pride ourselves on coming out in the second half and getting a run going.”
The Knights also got 11 points, seven rebounds, five assists and four steals from senior Christian Pickens while reserve guard Cedric Gray added 10 off the bench.
Stankavage had four points at the half, and Kam Flynn, who averages over 13 points per game, had just five.
But that’s fine with the Knights, who have a nine-man rotation where everyone contributes something.
“It’s insanely important,” Stankavage said. “It doesn’t have to be me or (Pickens) who have to score. It can be Kam, it can be (freshman) Evan (Smith), it can be anyone. It’s just next man up.
Stankavage scored double figures in 18 of his 20 games, and when it mattered most, delivered against the Sabres.
“Luke is getting the defense’s best player a lot of times, but I thought he did have a good second half because he came out and got a few looks,” Craft said. “They are really keying on him, and he’s struggled with that some, but he got some open looks and he usually knocks those down when he can get them.”
In the win over Harding, Stankavage scored a game-high 27 points but Flynn had 11, Pickens 10 and sophomore reserve Noah Carver added seven.
“Our bench has played really well,” Craft said. “Every game it seems it’s somebody different stepping up.”
The Knights have Berry on Feb. 8 and close the year with conference-leading Olympic on Feb. 13, although at 17-4 overall and 8-2 in league play Ardrey Kell is a lock to get the No. 2 seed and probably a good playoff seed.
“We’re coming. We’re 17-4 overall and kind of under the radar a little bit,” Craft said. “We’ve played better on the road sometimes, and I don’t know why. At home, we’ve kind of been so-so and inconsistent, but we have to take care of that.
“We’ve still got a lot to play for.”