CCC Tournament: Salisbury boys 59, East Davidson 48
By Ronnie Gallagher
LEXINGTON ó East Davidson scored the first 10 points of the second half to take a two-point lead on Salisbury and you had to wonder what was on Golden Eagle coach Matt Jacobs’ mind.
“I was thinking, ‘We’re good enough to beat the No. 1-ranked team in the state of North Carolina,’ ” Jacobs said. “But Salisbury’s No. 1 for a reason.”
The Hornets (25-1) proved it by regrouping quickly and gradually pulling away for a 59-48 victory in the semifinals of the CCC tournament at Central Davidson on Wednesday night.
It was the 25th straight win for Jason Causby’s club and sends them into Friday night’s 7:30 final against Lexington.
Causby admitted his team was a bit off its game.
“Tournament play is hard to get into,” he said. “I hate playing the first game because it’s usually stagnant in the gym. Even in the first half, we looked stagnant. Everybody was leaning back on their heels instead of being on their toes.”
It wasn’t heels or toes Causby was worried about late in the game. It was the left ankle of Darien Rankin. He sprained it after hitting a layup with a couple of minutes remaining. He did not return and left the gym limping.
“I think it scared him more than anything,” Causby said. “He definitely rolled it.”
“I came down on the whole left side of my ankle,” explained Rankin, who finished with 14 points. “I wasn’t worried about the pain. I was worried about whether I could play on Friday.”
It was a battle just to get to Friday for the Hornets in a game of contrasting styles: Salisbury’s in-your-face pressure against East Davidson’s patience. The slower pace won out early as the Golden Eagles (9-15) gained a moral victory, trailing just 12-10 after one quarter.
Causby expects his senior point guard Thaddeus Williams to take control in close games and the senior didn’t disappoint.
The slick Williams fed Alex Weant for a layup and hit Dominique Phillips for an easy two. He then made a steal and hit leading scorer Brandon Abel (16 points) for a deuce.
When Abel converted a rebound follow into a 3-point play, Salisbury led 25-17 at halftime.
That’s when East made its run to take the lead and it was time for a Salisbury gut check when Causby called a quick timeout.
The Hornets came through, finishing the quarter on a 19-9 run for a 44-36 margin heading into the final eight minutes. Who started the spurt? Williams, of course, with a drive to the basket.
“A lot of times, when a team as highly ranked as them play a team that’s not supposed to be there, they get frustrated, they quit executing and they stop working,” Jacobs said. “They don’t do that. That’s what makes them No. 1 in the state. They don’t stop working.”
The pesky Golden Eagles had one last surge in them, cutting the lead to 44-40. But once again, Salisbury answered. Abel scored inside. Williams fed Romar Morris for a layup and Rankin swooped in for a pretty layup. That made it 50-40 and East Davidson was out of challenges.
Both coaches pointed to Salisbury’s pressure defense as the main reason for the final verdict.
“We continue to put pressure on you and sooner or later you’re going to turn it over,” Causby said. “I told them to keep swarming the ball.”
Rankin acknowledged East Davidson played well, adding, “We know everybody’s going to give us their best shot.”
Jacobs said his team did just that.
“They had to play their butts off to beat us,” he said.
NOTES: Of Rankin’s injury, Causby said, “I don’t think he’ll be out long,” noting the star sophomore’s status Friday will be a game-time decision. … John Knox drilled three 3-pointers and had 11 points. … The 6-foot-6 Weant played well early, grabbing five first-quarter rebounds and scoring four points in the first half. … Lexington won the other semifinal over Providence Grove 80-76.
east davidson (48) ó Michael 10, Barton 9, Branson 8, Dodd 6, Clark 5, Thomas 4, Warren 2, Mouzon 2, Hawks 2, Faulkner, Palmer.
salisbury (59) ó Abel 16, Rankin 14, Knox 11, Phillips 8, Weant 4, Williams 4, Morris 2, Wilkins.
E. Davidson 10 7 19 12 ó 48
Salisbury 12 13 19 15 ó 59