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ANDERS: NP seniors finish in style

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North Pitt's Nyjanique Langley celebrates after hitting a 3-pointer in the first quarter of the 2-A state championship game against North Wilkes at the Dean Smith Center on March 10, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By JORDAN ANDERS
The Daily Reflector

Monday, March 12, 2018

CHAPEL HILL

I saw it.

I've seen it a few times before, but this time it was different, and I knew exactly what it meant.

Nyjanique Langley came down the floor in the first quarter of Saturday's 2-A state championship game against North Wilkes, pulled up at the left wing behind the college 3-point line, took a pass from Casandra Watson and buried a 3 that pushed the Panthers' lead to double digits for the first time.

As the North Pitt contingent exploded with cheers, Langley turned and skipped back up the floor, shaking her head with a look of deadly focus on her face.

I've seen that look.

It meant there was no way this day wasn't going to belong to the Panthers.

Langley closed out her career at North Pitt fittingly. Her 33-point, 16-rebound performance made her the game's MVP, just as she was as a sophomore two seasons ago, and North Pitt again walked off the floor at the Dean Smith Center the ruler of 2-A girls' basketball.

Langley is a special talent. Her repertoire features a wide array of moves that leave you asking "How do you defend that?" and all of those moves were on display against North Wilkes.

The senior guard was her typical sheepish self in the media room after the game, saying only "Great. I'm feeling good," when asked to describe the feeling of her second state championship.

Her coach, William Knight, wasn't nearly as coy.

"I believe this ball player sitting beside me is the best player in the state ...," Knight said. "I haven't seen a better player this year than Nyjanique Langley. She gives you 110 percent. Yes, she takes breaks on defense at times, but other than that, she's going to give you 110 percent. I believe she's the best player in the state."

Knight expressed his outrage at the fact Langley was overlooked for the Carolinas All-Star Basketball Classic, and he likely isn't the only one with that belief. She averaged 27.1 points per game in her final season and averaged 29.3 in the postseason, scoring at least 30 points in four of NP's six playoff games.

Langley's personality has been one of the more enigmatic in Pitt County during her tenure at North Pitt. On the court, she exuded a quiet confidence and thrived in the brightest of spotlights, yet had a reputation off the court of being a player of not just few words, but sometimes almost no words at all.

She did eventually offer a little insight in Saturday's press conference into the realization she had played her last high school game.

"I might cry later on," she said, wiping her face with a towel. "Not right now, but I might cry later on."

Langley was joined in closing out her career as a champion by the Panthers' only other senior, center Alyssa Kerns.

The duo stands in stark contrast as players and personalities. Where Langley garnered all the attention with her scoring ability, Kerns was the grinder inside, a 6-foot volleyball player-turned-rebounding machine that only played two seasons of basketball.

Though she may have played without the fluidity of a natural basketball player, Kerns was never far from the top of the list of players Knight credited with helping the Panthers reach their 26-5 record. She averaged just 3.0 points per game, but collected an average of 10.9 rebounds per game and provided a stabilizing force inside as NP's biggest body.

While Langley typically shied away from sharing her thoughts, Kerns beamed Saturday as she talked about what it meant to her to have been a part of the basketball program.

"I wish that I had played my first two years," she said, smiling. "It was a really great experience and I'm glad that I did it. The team was amazing and I love basketball like I don't think I thought I did maybe even a few weeks ago, and I'm really going to miss it. I'm going to miss my team so much."

The Panthers were much more than just their two seniors. Junior guards Tamia Frizzell, Tjuanna Williams and Casandra Watson each hit crucial jumpshots in the fourth quarter Saturday, and sophomores Ashanti Hines and Nautika Newton were key parts of their run to a title. Those players will be the foundation of a North Pitt team that will likely be a threat to defend that title next season.

The run to this year’s title, though, was about Langley and Kerns, and about being able to send out the most successful player in the program’s history with another championship.

To have those two finish their playing careers with a title was fitting. After all, Langley and Kerns were a perfect encapsulation of what North Pitt's girls were this year and how they became champions — the perfect balance of flash and grit, silent determination and enthusiastic effort.

Contact Jordan Anders at janders@reflector.com, 252-329-9594 and follow @ReflectorJordan on Twitter.

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