Moir Christmas Classic: Shaw column: West boys win with defense

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 30, 2008

By David Shaw
Salisbury Post
All things considered, West Rowan’s Mike Gurley was one satisfied boys basketball coach Monday night.
Sure, the Falcons converted only one of their first 11 field-goal attempts in a 70-51 semifinal win over Carson. And yes, West couldn’t hit water with an anchor in the third quarter, when it missed its first 11 shots.
But by game’s end, the 7-0 Falcons had secured what they came for ó a date with Salisbury in tonight’s Sam Moir Christmas Classic championship game at Goodman Gym.
“The percentages weren’t very good tonight,” Gurley shrugged when informed his team needed a 13-for-17 finishing kick to reach 35 percent. “But what that stat sheet doesn’t show is that Santa Claus came. It doesn’t show there was a whole lot of turkey, mashed potatoes and pecan pie. And there was a whole lot of free time for these kids to get out of their routine. There are a lot of intangibles that are not covered with holiday basketball.”
Fair enough. But just the same, it sure felt like someone left the refrigerator door open.
“We were cold from the floor,” said West big man K.J. Sherrill, who snatched 10 rebounds in 12 foul-plagued minutes. “It was mainly from rushing shots. We played fast but on a pace. We don’t look at the numbers. We just keep playing and keep shooting, as long as we’re getting good shots.”
Here’s the ironic part: West had shot extremely well in each of its previous six victories ó including a 44-point rout of Carson just 10 days earlier. On paper, this should have been another milk run, another spring clean for the May queen.
“We thought it would be a rollover game, based on the first time we played them,” freshman Jordan Kimber said. “Maybe we took them for granted.”
Or perhaps the Cougars, who inched within 30-25 when Derrick Sewell beamed in a 3-pointer late in the third period, knew what was coming.
“They played with that West Rowan tradition,” said Carson coach Brian Perry, a former West assistant. “They expect to win ó even when the shots aren’t falling. That’s what tradition does for you.”
Gurley elected to focus on the positives, and there were many.
Start with a defense that allowed only five Carson baskets in the first half, none of them from 3-point range, and held the Cougars to 33-percent shooting. Then there was West’s 47-33 rebounding edge, led by Sherrill and Chris Smith, who reeled in nine. And don’t overlook the home-stretch marksmanship of freshman Keshun Sherrill ó he scored eight of his game-high 19 points in the last 3:22 ó and the crunch-time steadiness of seniors Myles Moore and Jason Grant.
“Maybe to the average fan, who bases everything on the ball going in the hole, we didn’t shoot very good,” Gurley said. “But this game was a lot more than that. And overall I thought we played pretty doggone hard.”
Taking it all in was Salisbury coach Jason Causby, seated across from the West bench at the far right end of the media table. He’ll show up tonight with a team that believes no mission is impossible around here.
“There can’t be any selfishness,” West junior Maxx Gore said. “We have to communicate as a team and distribute the ball. We’ve gotta play together.”
Added Kimber: “We’ve got to box out, rebound and play defense. When we play defense, it’s hard to beat us.”
Sounds like a defensive struggle brewing on the horizon.
“If we play strong defense, we’ll win the championship,” Smith said. “Because offense wins games, but defense wins championships.”
And that would leave Gurley feeling doubly satisfied.