OXFORD — Like any basketball player across the country, J.F. Webb junior Cam Wilkerson always envisioned that he would one day hitting a game-winning buzzer beater.

That dream became a reality for Wilkerson when he had the ball in his hands at the 3-point line with just three seconds remaining on the clock in a rivalry game against Vance County, which had battled Webb to a 54-54 tie.

The brief silence that followed the ball leaving Wilkerson’s hands was immediately replaced by the roar of the Webb student body, who rushed the court to celebrate with Wilkerson and his teammates following his game-winning three-point shot.

Wilkerson never doubted the ball would go through the net once he found an open look at the basket.

“I had confidence,” Wilkerson said. “Every day in practice, I’m shooting that shot. When game time comes, you have to hit that shot.”

For most of the second half, Wilkerson was unsure if he would even be in a position to seal the win for Webb.

After leading 28-27 at halftime, Webb struggled to find offensive cohesion in the third quarter, which enabled Vance County’s playmakers, senior Traejon Davis, junior Tizaerian Holden and sophomore Nathaniel Durham, to attack the basket and pull away with the lead.

Webb head coach Alex Tharp knew that a win would not be feasible unless he and his players adjusted to Vance County’s defensive pressure and ran at a pace that would shift momentum back into their favor.

“The 1-3-1 [Vance County] was running and their trapping was a big problem for us,” Tharp said. “They are huge and the size definitely messed with us, so we had to slow it down, swing the ball very quickly and take good shots instead of quick shots.”

Webb senior and leading scorer Javon Bullock led the charge with two thunderous dunks that reinvigorated the vibrant home crowd, while Wilkerson played his part with several key buckets that included the game-winning three.

Wilkerson’s 19 points were the most he has scored in a single game on Webb’s varsity team, eclipsing his personal best of 14 against the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics the week before. He also grabbed a career-high six rebounds while also tallying two assists and five steals.

“This is what I worked for,” Wilkerson said. “[Wednesday] was a great team win and I’m going to continue shooting my shot. Through all the ups and downs, I’m going to keep playing and try to get us some wins.”

A career night for Wilkerson was another evening of frustration for Vance County head coach Chad Wilson, who firmly believed that his players were about to pick up their biggest win of the season.

Wilson knows the Vipers are far better than their one-win record on the season indicates, and was proud of the composure his players showed in a hostile environment even though they left Oxford empty-handed.

“We played great [on Wednesday],” Wilson said. “I think I really found my team. It got away from us right there at the end, so we’ve definitely got to work on closing out games in which we have a big lead.”

Defense was something that Wilson thought was a high point for Vance County all evening, but he also commended the team’s patience on offense and how each player relied on their strengths to get to the basket.

When it came down to the final shot, Wilson emphasized watching any backdoor cuts from Webb to go inside, but credited Wilkerson for creating separation and finding the perfect look to give Webb the win over Vance County.

Despite the outcome not going Vance County’s way, Wilson said that Wednesday’s heartbreaking loss to Webb will serve as a great learning experience for his players and is optimistic that the program will come away from the loss much stronger.

“This has given us tremendous confidence,” Wilson said. “I still want to see us improve upon the whole aspect of the game and figure out how to hold leads. We have work to do, but we’re going to keep moving from here because there’s only good things to come.”

For Tharp, Wednesday was the first time he was able to fully experience a true rivalry game between the Vance County and Webb basketball programs since first arriving at the school, as the two sides did not meet last year due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Tharp said the matchup showcased the impact of high-school basketball on the region. He was thrilled that Webb was able to come back from a nine-point third quarter deficit to take round one in the rivalry matchup despite not having one of its best players, junior Markeevis Latta, on the floor.

“That was one of the best atmospheres that I’ve been a part of,” Tharp said.

“Vance County is going to win a lot of games here and I’m proud of the way we fought against them. Everyone was a class act and the way the game ended was absolutely incredible courtesy from one of our hardest workers in Cam Wilkerson.”

Tharp intends to cherish Wednesday’s victory for as long as possible before Webb regroups for their next matchup against Durham School of the Arts on Tuesday.

Now forever etched into the lore of the sacred Henderson-Oxford basketball rivalry, Wilkerson said he will remember his game-winner for the rest of his life and had a simple but effective manner of celebrating the accomplishment.

“I [enjoyed the win] by getting some Cook Out,” Wilkerson said.

J.F. Webb scorers:

Cam Wilkerson 19, Javon Bullock 16, Elijah Rogers 11, Jamarri Williams 6, Beau Burnette 3, Bryson Thorpe 2.

Vance County scorers:

Traejon Davis 11, Tizaerian Holden, 11, Nathaniel Durham 10, Isreal Terry 6 pts, Aeryk Mebane, 5, Chris Jones 4, Christian Jones 4, Da’maje Parham 3, Elijah Harris 2

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