Last winter, Millbrook's season ended in the second round at the hands of Heritage as the Huskies made a run to the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A state championship game.
Things were different on Monday night though as both teams met for the season opener at Millbrook. After a close first half, Millbrook scored 34 points in the third quarter en route to an 84-60 win over Heritage.
"I knew it was going to be a tough one and whenever we play Heritage it's always a good atmosphere," said Millbrook basketball coach Chris Davis. "[Tilden] Brill does a great job with them, they play so hard."
The first quarter was close. Heritage exchanged leads with Millbrook early as Lucas Taylor and Dyson Pender each connected on 3-point shots. Taylor had five points in the quarter to lead the Huskies, but they had no answer inside on the other end of the floor for sophomore William Felton.
Felton scored seven points in the first quarter for Millbrook, including making good on an and-one, then Phillip Burwell added five more points as Millbrook took a 20-14 lead into the second quarter.
The Wildcats built on that lead some in the second quarter, outscoring Heritage by two points. Millbrook had a 35-27 lead at halftime.
"Early I was just trying to get us to play a little faster. We kept turning the ball over, we had a couple turnovers and some missed free throws," Davis said.
The halftime discussion was "very matter of fact," according to Davis. The coaches told the players what needed to change in the second half and the players went out and executed.
"Third quarter we really kind of found our stride and got a good pace," said Davis.
It was a pace that is hard to match in high school basketball. The Wildcats, behind 11 points from Burwell and eight points from Isaiah Lewis, scored 34 points in the third quarter and held Heritage to just 15 as they took a 69-42 lead going into the fourth quarter.
"We just got running and I think they wore down a little bit, but those kids, they played us so hard," said Davis.
The deficit didn't grow much in the fourth quarter. Heritage actually outscored Millbrook 18-15 in the quarter, but the game had already been decided with Millbrook's offensive explosion in the third quarter.
Davis, who spent the first half trying to get his team to play with more speed, said the energy factor was big for the Wildcats in the second half, ultimately allowing them to pull away from Heritage.
"Early, I think our guys – and definitely Heritage had something to do with it – but I think our guys were in the moment of playing the first game of the season and just trying to get their bearings," he said. "After we talked about things in the locker room at halftime ... they came out and executed in the second half."
Millbrook is deep this season with 10 players scoring in the game on Monday night. The Wildcats were led by Burwell's double-double of 18 points and 11 assists. Felton had 15 points for the Wildcats, Lewis scored 13 points, and Jalen McCoy added 12 points. That depth is something Davis thinks will be a huge benefit for his team down the stretch.
"Luckily we've got a bunch of guys that fit our system well and the way we're going to try to play is we're going to try to get as many guys out there to help us as we can, guys that do different things," he said. "We can kind of change pace with how we play because some teams like to zone us, some teams might want to pressure us, so whatever the situation is I think we've got enough pieces that we can kind of mix and match guys to help us out."
Pender also had a double-double, posting 12 points and 11 rebounds for Heritage. Redford Dunton led the team in scoring with 16 points.
Millbrook (1-0) will return to action on Saturday morning at 11:30 a.m. as the Wildcats travel to Asheville to face First Flight in the N.C. Basketball Coaches Association's Coaches vs. Cancer Shootout at UNC-Asheville.
Heritage (0-1) won't get much time to think about the loss to Millbrook. The Huskies are back on the road on Tuesday night with a game at Cary at 7 p.m.