Moir Christmas Classic: Salisbury boys 76, South Rowan 56

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 30, 2008

By Mike London
A unique defensive gameplan and 58.5-percent shooting gave Salisbury’s boys the opportunity to defend their Sam Moir Christmas Classic championship.
The balanced Hornets held high-scoring South Rowan guard Hunter Morrison to nine points with a concept coach Jason Causby borrowed from Sunday’s NFL action and pulled away for a 76-56 semifinal victory Monday.
Foul-plagued Darien Rankin was sensational for the Hornets, shooting 9-for-10 from the floor and scoring 20 points in 23 minutes. Brandon Abel, 2007 Moir MVP, produced a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Jahaan Hailey nailed five 3-pointers and scored 18 points. Romar Morris sprinted to 14 hustle points. Thaddeus Williams ran the show and keyed the defensive effort.
Second-seeded Salisbury (10-1) won its 10th in a row, avenged its only loss and earned the right to play undefeated and top-seeded West Rowan (7-0) for the title tonight at 8 p.m.
“I’m excited, proud and relieved, and I’m feeling kinda spoiled right now,” Salisbury coach Jason Causby said. “We know we’ll be playing a great team Tuesday, but it will be fun to play in front of that championship crowd for the third year in a row.”
Salisbury lost in two overtimes to East Rowan in the 2006 final and topped Davie County for the title last season.
The Hornets lost to third-seeded South 75-72 in November because Morrison and Steven Johnson combined for 47 points and the Hornets were outscored 33-8 from the foul line.”This game was for redemption,” Abel said. “Team effort, and as I’ve said repeatedly all year, everyone on this team can score. Anyone can be the high man on a given night.”
Morrison has carved up a lot of teams this season with his ballhandling, but he only got eight shots and four free-throw attempts against the Hornets. Even bigger stats were his eight turnovers and two assists. Those numbers are usually reversed.
Causby watched Morrison destroy Davie with 35 points in the first round, the highest-scoring game by a Raider in tournament history, and knew he had to try something different.
“I was watching the NFL on Sunday, and they’ll use a spy sometimes on a good player,” Causby said. “We watched Hunter put on a show Saturday, and we didn’t want to see a repeat performance. We used two guys to deny him when he didn’t have the ball, and if he did get it and did get by the first guy, we had a spy coming at him. Hunter is great at using his body and getting that step on a defender, but we kept him guessing where the second guy was coming from. We made him work for every shot and for every bounce.”
At least four Hornets took turns as the primary defender on Morrison, with Williams and John Knox accepting the role of spies.
“I want to deflect any credit from myself for that defense because we walked through things at noon for 20 minutes,” Causby said. “Then we went to Christo’s, ate some wings and came here to have some fun. The kids executed on defense. The kids made the plays.”
Morrison hit two tough pull-up jumpers, early, but Salisbury stuck with the plan. The ball was out of Morrison’s hands more and more as the game went on.
“Always a fresh body on him,” Williams said. “The focus was to contain his dribble and step in and take charges. The goal was to make sure we held them under 70 this time, and we achieved that goal.”
For a half, it appeared both teams might break 80. South (6-5) shot 57.7 percent from the floor and trailed 38-36. Salisbury used a small, quick lineup with Dominique Phillips stepping in for 6-foot-7 Alex Weant, and it forced a 94-foot game with relentless pressure.
South held its own throughout the first half because Reid Shaver delivered 15 of his 17 points before the break with a variety of scoops, runners and power moves.
South also got 10 points each from B.J. Grant and John Davis.
“That first half was high-quality basketball,” South coach John Davis said. “Obviously, they had a lot of guys running at Hunter. When that happens, other guys have to make themselves available, and when they get the ball they have to do something with it. In the first half, we did that. In the second half, we didn’t.”
Shaver was so tough in the first half South could have taken command had junior Jahaan Hailey not gotten a hot hand for the Hornets.
Salisbury’s designated bomber drilled three 3-pointers in the second quarter.
“I told him to keep shooting, not to hesitate, to just keep shooting,” Williams said.
Hailey listened to the senior’s advice. He missed all last season with an illness, but this was his fourth game in double figures.
“Jahaan is the guy that kept us from digging a hole,” Causby said.
Rankin picked up his fourth foul in the opening seconds of the second half, and Phillips was whistled for his fourth moments later. But momentum finally shifted Salisbury’s way when Shaver, who was battling the taller Abel inside, picked up two fouls on one trip down the floor for the Hornets.
Salisbury led 42-40 before Hailey hit his fifth 3-pointer with 6:15 left in the third quarter. When Knox drilled a 3-pointer a minute later, the Hornets had an eight-point lead and finally owned some separation.
“The third quarter, we had all kinds of shots from the foul-line in, but we didn’t make them,” Davis said. “And Hailey provided another element for Salisbury. The kid’s got good form and good rotation, and when you have those things shots are gonna fall for you. When he’s on, he’s on, and he was on.”
Salisbury’s lead was 11 by the end of the third quarter, and South faded quickly after it made a series of turnovers to start the fourth. Rankin wasn’t missing ó one tough jumper after another ó and Morris used his quickness to turn every South miscommunication or soft pass into easy points.
“We went dry,” Davis said. “Then the turnovers started piling up, and you could stick a fork in us.”
South trailed by 15. Then it was 20. Then it was 22.
“Salisbury is a lot like West Rowan: a tough team that can just come at you with a bunch of different players,” Morrison said. “There in the fourth quarter, we made four turnovers in a row. That was fatigue.”
Fatigue is a big part of the Hornets’ plan. Ultimately, it made the difference.
“South played great for a half, but we kept the pace up,” Causby said. “Some teams can do it for a half or even for three quarters. But we believe we can do it better and longer than you can.”
south rowan (56) ó Shaver 17, Grant 10, Davis 10, Morrison 9, Johnson 7, Corriher 3, Houston, Walker.
salisbury (76) ó Rankin 20, Hailey 18, Morris 14, Abel 11, Williams 6, Knox 5, Phillips 2, Weant, Jones, McCain.S. Rowan 18 18 9 11 ó 56
Salisbury 16 22 18 20 ó 76