CHARLOTTE – Charlotte Catholic had been in this situation before.
Even so, after watching a 42-36 third-quarter lead fizzle to a one-point deficit following a late 8-0 Butler run, Catholic coach Mike King said he knew what needed to happen.
It didn’t matter that his team had just been outscored 28-10 over the last quarter-and-a half. When Catholic inbounded the ball down 54-52 and the clock slowly expiring from 20 seconds, the Cougars executed.
After getting the ball past Butler’s pressure, the Cougars ran a high screen-and-roll for sharp-shooting guard Jack Dortch from the wing, and he buried his fifth 3-pointer of the night to give Catholic a stunning 55-54 come-from-behind win when Butler’s last-ditch chance fell short.
The Cougars had gone 7-1 in their final possession or overtime games last season. After losing 77-74 earlier in the season to Ardrey Kell in overtime, this time they pulled it off to perfection.
“It was nice to get a close win like this,” King said. “Like I told them, when it’s close you have to execute the plays to get the best players the ball. Of course, they have to make it, but that happened tonight. Against AK, we just turned the ball over too much and we made way too many mistakes. Tonight we didn’t.”
The Cougars have looked a little different on offense, but the team is thriving with a 3-1 start and a three-game win streak.
Senior David Pino has become the team’s leading scorer, this season averaging 18 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Against Butler, Pino struggled some offensively matched up with Butler’s 7-foot sophomore center Patrick Wessler, but he had a highlight-reel dunk on a steal and breakaway to end the first half and nearly recorded a
“David is so good around the rim and so good in the lane. Tonight, because the 6-11 kid is in there, he wasn’t able to finish where he usually does in the lane,” King said. “He still had nine points and eight rebounds. Look, most high school kids would take that, but I don’t think he’s satisfied with it. He’s going to be a big key for us.”
Another guy playing a big role is senior Kevin Kullick, who is averaging 13.3 points, 4.8 rebounds while shooting 67% from the floor.
Dortch has stepped up his game, too, averaging 11.3 points, nearly five points more than last season while shooting better than 40% from 3-point range.
That has left fewer shots for Colin Thomas, a junior who led the team in scoring last season at 13.0 points per game.
To this point, Thomas is averaging 7.3 points per game but everything else is up across the board as he’s improved his rebounding (7.5 per game), passing (4.5 assists per game) and defense, which has not gone unnoticed by his head coach.
“Colin right now is really being a team guy,” King said. “He’s playing out of position, he’s not putting up the points but he’s playing his role. He had a huge basket late for us when he hadn’t scored all game, so he’s contributing and doing things we need him to be doing right now.”
Kevin McArdle and Kevin Dumser have played big roles along with Alex King, Will Graham and others.
But as well as the Cougars are playing now, the defending Southern Carolinas Conference champions will have their hands full once league play begins Dec. 10.
And King knows nobody is letting Catholic sneak up on their schedule this season this year after they went 21-9 overall and 13-1 in league play.
“We have to meet the challenge,” King said. “We have to expect that we’re going to get everybody’s ‘A’ game, and our conference is so tough that we’re going to have to bring our ‘A+’ game in order to take care of business. We start three games on the road in conference – Piedmont, Cuthbertson and Weddington. It doesn’t get much tougher than that.”
King knows the season is long, but the Cougars have shown they have the capability to be good. How good relies on them, he says.
“We have to keep grinding,” King said. “We could be special, but they have to commit to one another. If they do, who knows, the sky could be the limit for us.”