RALEIGH -- A deep bench and powerful inside presence under the basket gave North Carolina lawmakers the advantage they needed to make a second half run and beat a squad of South Carolina legislators 35 -27 in a charity game Wednesday.
With the win at Reynolds Coliseum in Raleigh, North Carolina reclaimed the trophy from its southern rival and extended its series lead to 11-6 in an on-again, off-again competition that dates to 1979.
"It was a great game," said Rep. Burt Jones, a Rockingham Republican who coached the team and reveled in his post-game interview. "I think we played just a little bit better. ... We had a little run in the second half and pulled away."
The 6-foot, 5-inch center Rep. Chris Millis, a Hampstead Republican, scored big points for the bipartisan N.C. General Assembly team and swatted a few big South Carolina shots, easily winning the crowd's MVP nod. "Everybody played hard," he said, sounding just like a professional athlete. "It was a team win."
Gov. Pat McCrory made an appearance in the second half, playing good minutes but clanked two free throws late in the game. "I've never been so nervous in my life," McCrory said at the line.
Sen. Josh Stein, a Raleigh Democrat, and Rep. Bryan Holloway, a King Republican, dished the rock from the point, racking up assists and hitting clutch outside shots, along with Rep. Tom Murry, a Morrisville Republican, and Rep. Jeff Collins, a Rocky Mount Republican, who hit key baskets down the stretch.
The team from the other Carolina didn't bring as many reserves and suffered an early injury when point guard Rep. Ronnie Sabb turned his ankle in the first minutes of the game. S.C. Rep. Bakari Sellers, a lanky, smooth shooter also seriously injured himself in the second half in what turned out to be a physical game with many lawmakers hitting the floor.
"Two of our best players got hurt early and unfortunately that made it tough," said S.C. coach Bobby Harrell, a Charleston Republican and House speaker.
The score deadlocked with 12:50 left in the second half but Sen. Dan Soucek, a Boone Republican, hit a two and Millis and Holloway added baskets to build an eight-point lead.
North Carolina never relinquished the lead. Collins urged his teammates to add more points in the end to best the 10-point spread Rep. Charles Jeter, a Huntersville Republican, put on a North Carolina win.
A dozen or so women lawmakers served as cheerleaders, all wearing garb from their local colleges and high schools. "Take/ that/ ball away/ Take that ball away," they chanted from the baseline.
Rep. Michelle Presnell wore a Western Carolina cheerleading uniform and waved pom-poms. Rep. Rena Turner, an Olin Republican, was one of the half dozen who were former cheerleaders. "We had to warm up to avoid injuries," she quipped.
The North Carolina team entered to Queen's "We Will Rock You" and drew a crowd of about 150 lawmakers, lobbyists, staffers and family. The event raised nearly $600 and a barrel of food for the state's food banks.
Earlier in the evening, the N.C. General Assembly staff and government liaisons trounced the lobbyists 47-22 in a game lopsided from the start. Josh Arant, a 24-year-old staffer in the governor's office and former Division-III Rhodes College player, led the team. Antoine Marshall and Andrew Bell also had big points.