Everything was going according to Tabias Hilliard’s perfect homecoming.
Methodist’s freshman point guard, who won a state championship at Rocky Mount High less than a year ago, left the game with an injury only to return and give the Monarchs their first lead with just less than 10 minutes to play.
N.C. Wesleyan forward Brandon Givens has a way of ruining the dreams of opposing players.
Givens scored eight points in the final 2:30 as N.C. Wesleyan won its 10th home game of the season, 82-77.
Wednesday wasn’t exactly the perfect return for Hilliard.
“I was hoping it was going to be,” Hilliard said. “... We have to blame ourselves. We missed a couple key assignments. We’re going to get them next time, though.”
The biggest missed assignment was Givens, the second-highest scorer in the NCAA regardless of division.
After Hilliard’s basket, Methodist (7-9, 4-3 USAS) never trailed for seven minutes.
Held in check for most of the game, Givens knocked down two free throws with 2:34 to play to tie the game at 73.
The next time down court gave Givens a post-game smile and N.C. Wesleyan (11-7, 4-5) a lead it did not lose.
Being played to his right-hand side, Givens blew by his man with his left hand and exploded for a one-handed dunk, which sent Everett Gymnasium into a frenzy and forced Methodist coach David Smith to call a timeout.
“It felt good,” Givens said of his dunk with a laugh. “... It energized our team a lot. It helped us out a lot, and we got a lot of support from the fans.”
Givens, who finished with a game-high 30 points, hit two more free throws and another lay-up before Chris Ford went 3-for-4 from the free throw line in the final 25 seconds.
“I just demand the ball more,” Givens said of late-game situations. “I try to put our team on my back. I know they look up to me. ...
“They want me to step up and make a play.”
Givens was nearly outdone by the hometown point guard, who never expected to be in this situation.
The Monarchs had an All-Conference point guard, James Whitehead, returning from last year but Smith still wanted Hilliard because he said Hilliard never made a mistake.
Now, Hilliard, who played for Rocky Mount High’s 2011-12 3-A sate championship squad, is running the team.
It is more than Smith ever wanted.
“He has gone way beyond what we were expecting of him, and we have just been thrilled,” Smith said. “He (has) done everything that you could possibly think someone could do at the point guard position.”
While it was odd at first, Hilliard is becoming more comfortable with his one-on-one huddles with Smith and players coming to him for answers.
“I just showed him my heart and what I am capable of doing,” Hilliard said. “Then it’s up to him.”
Hilliard hit two free throws to put Methodist, which defeated N.C. Wesleyan earlier this season, ahead by two points with 2:49 remaining. Then Givens started his late surge and ruined Hilliard’s return.
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or email@example.com