Apex forward Majid Raji knocked down a short baseline jumper at the buzzer to bump Northern from the 4-A playoffs on Friday.
“I knew it was money,” Raji said.
The Cougars won 64-63.
Northern had the lead and possession with less than a minute left in the game.
There is no shot clock in high school basketball, so the Knights were positioned to milk the clock and wait for a foul from the Cougars.
But Northern’s players apparently heard no instructions from their bench to hold the ball. The Knights tried to make a play but missed a shot.
Apex rebounded and called time with 36.2 seconds left.
Raji scored to put the Cougars ahead.
Northern senior Ricky Council II snatched the lead for his team. His bucket put the Knights ahead 63-62.
Then Raji felled the Knights with that dagger.
“We were as resilient as we could possibly be,” Apex coach David Neal said. “When you’ve got people like (Northern’s Kentrell Barkley) and (Council), it’s hard to guard them without fouling them.”
Barkley scored 18 points.
Council, a senior, led all scorers with 23 points, including that time he rose for a dunk to give the Knights a 38-37 lead late in the third period.
UNC Wilmington coach Buzz Peterson seemed to like that.
Duke point guard Quinn Cook was at the game, too.
The 3-ball kept Apex in the game in the second half.
“We didn’t defend it well,” Northern coach Ronnie Russell said.
On Wednesday, Apex Middle Creek, was nailing 3-pointers against Northern, but the Knights were able to survive.
The Knights might have held on against Apex if they’d just settled down and held the ball at the end.
“I think the kids saw that they had an opportunity,” Russell said. “I think they saw a window of opportunity and tried to do some things with it. That’s the nature of the game.”
After Northern beat Middle Creek, Council talked in terms of there being no rewind button to push in the playoffs.
Apex pressed stop, bringing to an end Council’s career as a Knight.
“We made history,” Council said, referring to Northern this season winning the regular-season championship in the PAC-6, as well as the conference tournament.
No. 7 Apex 64, No. 2 Northern 63
Apex 13 8 22 21 — 64
Northern 16 11 18 18 — 63
APEX — T.J. Evans 14, T.J. Wells 13, Majid Raji 20, Malik Williams 3, Davis DuPree 4, Ian Boyd 10.
NORTHERN — Timothy Crutchfield 6, Dillon Leovic 2, Jaquan Harris 9, Kentrell Barkley 18, Timothy Bell 5, Ricky Council II 23.
Records — Apex 20-7; Northern 26-3.