ALPHARETTA – The turnaround came to an end around 5:15 p.m. on Wednesday. One by one, North Forsyth boys’ basketball players walked out of Room 102 at Chattahoochee High School and into the offseason.
A season of significant progress was halted as the Raiders lost to Centennial, 56-40, in the Region 6-AAAAAA tournament, struggling to match the Knights’ athleticism or handle their full-court pressure defense.
Centennial (16-10) advanced to the region semifinals to face the Chattahoochee-Johns Creek winner Friday at 8:30 p.m.
North, meanwhile, saw its season end at 11-15.
“I think we were more competitive this year, that’s for sure,” North head coach Brian Moon said. “I don’t think this game defines how we’ve been playing this last month. We just got off to a horrible start.”
Indeed, little went right for the Raiders from the tip. By the end of the first quarter, top-scorer Dakota Holtzclaw had two fouls, the sharp-shooting Raiders were just 1-for-7 from behind the arc and Centennial led 18-3.
Eventually, the Knights built their lead to 20 early in the second quarter. It got to 30 late in the third quarter.
“They’re a team where if you give them a little bit they’re going to feed off it,” Moon said, “and they did.”
Chad Bureau led North with 15 points, but he provided the only source of consistent offense. Holtzclaw made his only basket on a short hook shot with 6:10 left in the game to finish with two points. Nick Cunningham drilled a pull-up 3 for North’s first points of the game but didn’t score again until a put-back layup with less than three minutes left in the game to finish with five points.
“When they don’t [score], we’re going to have a hard time, because we’re not very good defensively,” Moon said. “We don’t get easy buckets. We don’t turn people over. We just don’t. It’s not the make-up of our team.”
Centennial, meanwhile, had Adam Saeed, the Knights’ 6-foot-5 forward who entered averaging 13.6 points and 8.4 rebounds a game. North had no answer for his length that led to four steals, two of which he turned into emphatic dunks. Saeed finished with 18 points and eight rebounds in three quarters of work.
North entered Tuesday buoyed by its performance in the final week of the regular season. The Raiders had defeated Johns Creek, a playoff contender, 67-53 on Feb. 3. They followed that with a 61-58 victory over rival South Forsyth on Senior Night. It brought them over 10 wins on the season after going 1-25 the year before.
But this season was supposed to be different all along. Holtzclaw transferred from Horizon Christian Academy, an immediate 6-foot-5 infusion of talent. There was also another offseason of maturation out of Bureau, Cunningham and forward Coleton Holzer. The Raiders came back from an early-season trip to Alabama and promptly won two straight games, already putting the frustrations of 2013-14 to rest.
But it still didn’t added up to North’s first playoff appearance since 2006.
“I told our guys we’ve got to get better individually before we get better as a team,” Moon said. “We will. We’ve got some kids coming up who want to get better, and they will.”