ALBEMARLE — North Rowan's early-season puzzle is taking shape.
The Cavaliers added an important piece Wednesday night when they overcame a shaky start and rolled past host Albemarle 54-37 in their YVC opener.
“It's a big win and it's here on their home court,” coach Andrew Mitchell said after North squared its overall record at 2-2. “They're one of the good teams in our conference and I'm sure they're going to get better.”
North placed three scorers in double figures, but what most pleased Mitchell and his staff was the Cavs' knuckle-to-knuckle defense. Albemarle converted only 14 field goal attempts and was held to 17 second-half points.
“We've been giving up a lot of points. Too many points,” Mitchell said. “We say we want to hold opponents to 40 points or less and tonight we accomplished our goal. We play pretty good offense, but offense won't do it if you want to go deep (in the state playoffs). We need to get our hands on balls and get deflections and things like that. Defense won this game and defense will win every game if it's played right.”
North allowed 77, 71 and 47 points in its first three games — an average of 63 per night. And although Albemarle (0-1) has had limited practice time due to another successful football season, this was an impressive display.
“I think we dug in and did a good job staying together,” center Malik Ford said. “We didn't let up on defense. Everybody kept their hands up and feet sliding.”
AHS coach Al Andrews, now in his 20th season, was impressed with the Cavs. “They're going to beat a lot of people,” he said. “I knew what to expect. They were just bigger and stronger than us. Over the course of four quarters, the cream rises to the top.”
It didn't start that way. North built a quick 6-1 lead but soon found itself staring up from a 13-6 hole after Trey Nivens grabbed successive offensive rebounds and hit a putback with 2:45 remaining in the first period.
“We kind of underestimated them,” said Oshon West, the game's high scorer with 15 points. “It was a tough start. They were getting to the boards.”
Andrews said it was simply a matter of the Bulldogs playing to their strengths. “We were actually moving the ball, getting it inside,” he noted. “We weren't trying to do too much with it.”
North trailed 17-9 after 6-foot-3, 250-pound sophomore Lee Autry scored on a close-range hook shot early in the second quarter. But the Cavs used an 18-3 spurt to close the first half and led 27-20 at the break.
“That's the good thing about this team,” Mitchell said. “We don't have to force and press for anything early because we can score in bunches. We can go three or four minutes without scoring and then all of a sudden score 10 or 15 points. But I think when we come out and try to scored that 15 right away that we run into trouble.”
North dictated the pace in the third quarter and bolstered its lead to 42-28. Then after Albemarle closed within 10 points in the fourth, Ford provided an exclamation point when he took a swing pass from freshman Jalen Sanders — who had made a mid-court steal — and flushed down an industrial-strength jam.
“You've got to show up focused,” Ford said after tallying 11 points. “That's what we're emphasizing. Anytime you can get points off turnovers , you've got to take them.”
NORTH ROWAN (54) — West 15, Connor 11, Ford 11, Sanders 9, Bowman 3, Archie 3, Bates 2, Walker, Ellis, B.Nelson, D.Nelson.
ALBEMARLE(37) — Christian 7, Ellis 6, Autry 6, Williams 6, Ridenhour 4, Blanton 3, Nivens 2, Brown 1, Baldwin 1, Dumas 1.
N. Rowan 9 18 15 12 — 54
Albemarle 13 7 8 9 — 37