Prep hoops: East boys 71, North Davidson 58
By David Shaw
GRANITE QUARRY óEast Rowan took its new season for a test drive Tuesday night ó and it was a bit of a bumpy ride.
The Mustangs were far from spectacular in their season opener against visiting North Davidson, but they were good enough to drive off with a 71-58 victory.
“It was not pretty,” coach Greg McKenzie said. “But maybe our players think it was pretty, so I’ll just pretend that it was.”
The game was played like an untuned piano.
Not until East senior Jesse Slater hit back-to-back 3-pointers late in the third quarter did the Mustangs take command.
“That’s when we felt the momentum leaning our way,” said Slater, who scored all 11 of his points in the second half. “Both times when I got the ball, I knew I was going to shoot it.”
East was nursing a 43-36 lead when Slater spotted up in the left corner and buried a 3-pointer with 16 seconds remaining in the period.
Following a quick turnover, he took a pinpoint pass from teammate Michael Morton and hit a long shot from beyond the left elbow, providing East with a 13-point lead.
“Slater got us going,” said teammate Daniel Plummer, East’s top scorer with 21 points. “It’s gonna be wavy this year. We lost all our offense, and we’re going to have our ups and downs. When he hit those, it felt like we found something.”
It was nothing McKenzie hadn’t seen before.
“Jesse’s our best shooter,” he said. “But he’s never been able to quite do it in a game. So that was great for his confidence. He just blew it up.”
North Davidson (0-1) received 20 points from guard Wade Goff and 16 from Michael Priest. But first-year coach Kevin King ó a former R.J. Reynolds assistant ó wasn’t exactly turning cartwheels.
“You could tell it was a first game for both teams,” King said. “It looked like a bunch of kids playing varsity for the first time. There was no flow, no rhythm.”
The game see-sawed in the first half.
North Davidson took a 21-16 lead when Priest hit a turn-around jumper from the right side midway through the second quarter. East responded by driving the lane, getting fouled and making its free throws.
After Morton made a 12-foot shot as the first half ended, the Mustangs trotted to their locker room with a 32-28 edge.
“To me that was huge,” McKenzie said. “It felt like if we could hit shots like that, we should be ahead.”
East’s lead ballooned to 17 when Plummer converted a pair of free throws with 4:22 to play.
“Once they got way ahead of us, we were in a tough spot,” King said. “We’re not the kind of team that can go off on a 10-2 spurt. We’re not gonna put a big run on you.”
Down the stretch the Black Knights were forced to foul, and several players picked up their fifth personals.
East Rowan finished 29-for-43 from the free throw line, including 12-for-16 in the last four minutes.
“It was our first game together with officials,” Plummer said. “We’ve still got a lot to improve on. And since our scoring is down, I think we’re gonna have to look to our defense.”
NOTES: Plummer shot 5-for-12 from the field and 11-for-17 from the foul line. He added nine rebounds and five assists. … Teammate Brian Grohman ó a 6-foot-4 junior who can jump out of the gym ó had eight points and seven rebounds. … Phillip Ajayi was the team’s third-leading scorer with nine points. NORTH DAVIDSON (58) ó Goff 20, Priest 16, Ferrell 8, Tucker 6, Lassiter 6, Duncan 2.EAST ROWAN (71) ó Plummer 21, Slater 11, Ajayi 9, Grohman 8, Allen 6, Weber 6, McKenzie 5, Moore 3, Morton 2, Mancil.N. Davidson 16 12 8 22 ó 58
E. Rowan 12 20 17 22 ó 71