RALEIGH — For the second straight year, the Lumberton boys basketball team has reached the 4A East Regional final in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association state playoffs.
But the Pirates face a difficult test if they want to repeat as regional champions — undefeated Millbrook.
One of the traditional Raleigh-area prep-basketball powers, the Wildcats will host Lumberton at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
“They’re beasts on the glass; their second-chance points is a big part of their offense,” Lumberton coach Bryant Edwards said. “They’re very aggressive off the bounce, and they like to get out and run in transition. Those are three things we’re going to really hit on; making them play in the half-court, keeping them off the boards and guarding the points.”
Millbrook (17-0) is playing in its fifth regional final in the last 11 years, returning after losing to South Central in 2019; the Wildcats advanced to the state championship game once out of the previous four regional final appearances, in 2011, before losing the state final to West Charlotte.
The Wildcats beat Lumberton in the first round in 2018.
Millbrook features plenty of size, including Louisville signee Eric van der Heijden, a 6-foot-9 guard/forward combo averaging 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 3.8 blocks per game.
“He’s a true shooting guard,” Edwards said. “He wants to play on the perimeter, he can shoot at a high level, very high percentage he’s a really good free throw shooter and he’s got good handles. We want to make him uncomfortable on the perimeter; we don’t want him to have any space or comfortability, because he is 6-9 and he can shoot over any defender we have, even our tallest players. We’re going to try to make him as uncomfortable as possible, but they’ve got three other Division-I players plus a Division-II commit on their starting five, so it’ll be tough.”
The Wildcats’ other key players include senior guard/forward Redford Dunton (20.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists per game), a Purdue-Fort Wayne signee; junior guard Silas Demary Jr. (16.3 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 2.8 steals per game); senior guard Chris Daniels (14.2 points, 4.4 assists, 2.6 steals per game); and junior forward CeeJay Jordan (10.5 points, 7.3 rebounds per game).
In addition to their strength on the boards, the Wildcats share the ball well.
“Their offense is a lot of one-on-one, but when you overhelp and commit heavy on the ball, they do find the open shooter,” Edwards said. “They’re good enough talent, good enough players, to find the open man and take easy, open shots. So we’ve got to be careful how much we over-pursue the basketball, and we’ve got to be ball-tough. We’ve got to win the 50-50 battles, and got to win the offensive boards.”
Millbrook defeated New Bern 89-43 in the first round, Fuquay-Varina 86-82 in the second round and Apex Friendship 68-66 in overtime in the third round on Saturday.
Lumberton (13-2) reached the regional final with a 54-50 win over Pinecrest Saturday, a rematch of last year’s regional final. The Pirates defeated Apex Friendship 59-53 in the first round and topped Laney 64-47 in the second round.
The Pirates’ second-consecutive appearance in the regional final comes in Edwards’ second year with the program — and the coach believes these playoff runs can become common for the Pirates moving forward.
“For years I’ve looked this direction and noticed there’s always always been talent at Lumberton,” Edwards said. “There’s always been talent walking the hallways; there’s always been talent on the basketball court. The whole thing last year was discipline, and the fact that these kids have bought into everything I say and they’re just receptive to everything and play hard; the talent then takes over. I really do think Lumberton High School can be a Kinston-type program and can make runs year after year. I really feel that way, and I’ve felt that way since I’ve taken the job, because there are athletes walking the hall.”