Prep hoops: Salisbury boys 83, Lexington 57
By Mike London
The championship banner for Salisbury’s girls tennis team was unveiled prior to Thursday’s game ó inspiration for a third-ranked boys basketball team that owns similar aspirations.
The Hornets didn’t win in straight sets, but they buried talented Lexington 83-57 to maintain a tight grip on first place in the CCC.
Salisbury (20-1, 11-0) notched its 20th straight victory since it lost at South Rowan in November. The last time the Hornets won 20 in a season was 1994.
Salisbury last won 20 straight games when pro Bobby Jackson was running the show in 1992.
“We’ve got one loss on our record,” junior Dominique Phillips said. “We don’t need any more.”
A special team did special things. Sophomore Darien Rankin scored 26 points, and senior Brandon Abel had 19.
Phillips ó who has emerged as the county’s elite “garbage man” ó stuck in eight of his 12 points in a decisive second-quarter burst. Thaddeus Williams turned in a terrific floor game in a contest that contained furious runs, raucous fans and serious heat.
“We’re not a 20-win team because we have talent,” Salisbury coach Jason Causby said. “We’re a 20-win team because we have talent, plus hard work.
“This team really tries to do all the little things right. Sometimes they don’t, but they’re always trying.”
The little thing Salisbury did best against Lexington was make free throws.
The Hornets shot 75 percent (33-for-44). In the fourth quarter, Rankin and Abel combined to go 15-for-16.
“We stayed on the attack,” Rankin said. “When you attack, you get free throws.”
Warren Holmes hit four 3-pointers and scored 19 points for the Yellow Jackets (11-9, 6-5). They had won five straight, including a victory over second-place Providence Grove last Friday.
“We just weren’t ready to play,” Lexington coach Robert Hairston said. “Salisbury was the hungrier team. We were down 20-something when we decided to play in the latter part of the third quarter.”
Phillips’ relentless hustle, Williams’ vision and passing, plus frigid Lexington shooting allowed the Hornets to push to a 30-18 halftime lead. John Knox’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer provided momentum.
“Lexington didn’t shoot it like they can, but our defense had something to do with that,” Causby said.
A ruckus in the bleachers interrupted play briefly in the third quarter, but the Hornets expanded their lead to 54-30 on three-point plays by Abel, Rankin and Knox.
Then Holmes got hot, and Lexington scrapped back to cut its deficit to 60-46 with five minutes remaining. The Hornets controlled their emotions, regained control and finished it off with deadly foul shooting.
“We tried to foul them just to slow them down some,” Hairston said. “But they must have hit like 95 percent.”
An emphasis on free-throw drills has paid off. That was a weakness earlier in the season.
“Every drill, it’s no water until after we make those free throws,” Phillips said.
Salisbury was 1-for-5 in the dunking department, but the one Rankin hammered down was worth the admission price.
“I try not to think about the negatives,” Rankin said with a smile. “I made it a good one.”
Salisbury goes to Ledford tonight and can clinch a share of the CCC title with a victory.
“We were sputtering a bit in January because we’d gotten away from what made us good in the Christmas tournament,” Causby said. “We’re back to attacking the glass, whether it’s transition or halfcourt.”
LEXINGTON (57) ó Holmes 19, Parsons 13, Crump 8, Curry 7, Boger 5, McCown 3, Challenger 2, Todd.
SALISBURY (83) ó Rankin 26, Abel 18, Phillips 12, Knox 11, Morris 9, Williams 4, Weant 2, Do 1, Almeida, Wilkins, Wood, Lingard.Lexington 7 11 15 24 ó 57
Salisbury 11 19 24 29 ó 83