Moir Christmas Classic Final: Salisbury boys 59, North Rowan 49

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 30, 2009

By Mike London
Salisbury guard John Knox is 5-foot-9, but he pulled down 27 rebounds in the Sam Moir Christmas Classic.
The only players who had more boards than Knox in the three-day event were North Rowan’s Javon Hargrave, who’s got 80 pounds on him, and Davie’s Shannon Dillard, who’s got Knox by at least 8 inches.
Knox has something that can’t easily be quantified √≥effort, desire heart, something √≥ and it rubbed off on all his teammates in a 59-49 victory over North in Wednesday’s desperately contested championship game.
Salisbury got 19 points from all-tournament Jahaan Hailey and 18 from MVP Darien Rankin, who owned the fourth quarter, to win its third straight Moir title.
SHS coach Jason Causby also got a super sequence from Knox late in the third quarter when it was still anyone’s game and fans at Goodman Gym were starting to believe a youthful North team might shock the county.
With fifth-seeded Salisbury trailing 40-38, Knox went high in the lane to rebound a teammate’s miss. Knox put up a shot in heavy traffic. It didn’t fall. Undaunted, he went up again, out-wrestled everyone for another board, and this time he stuck it in. That tied it. It was all Hornets after that.
On a night when everyone was weary and playing for the third straight day, Knox was relentless.
“Everybody gets tired, but you suck it up, find that extra boost and keep pushing,” Knox said. “Coach wants the guards to crash the boards so I kept crashing the boards.”
North (8-2) finished with 28 turnovers, but it played even with SHS the first three quarters.
All-tournament pick Daniel Chambers had eight points and nine rebounds for the Cavs, while all-tourney Pierre Givens had eight points and five assists.
Playing in their first title game since 2000, the Cavaliers weathered Salisbury’s early punch and trailed 16-12 after a quarter. Then North grabbed a 28-25 lead when 6-foot-5 freshman Malik Ford threw down an electrifying dunk that beat the halftime horn.
“That dunk was great,” Causby said. “That’s when our guys started looking at each other and thinking, ‘North’s not going anywhere. They’re not going away. This will be hard.’ ”
North wore the white jerseys as the higher (No. 2) seed, but it was a heavy underdog that lost to Salisbury by 23 points before Christmas. The Cavaliers hung in by scrapping defensively, battling evenly on the boards and taking advantage of poor Salisbury foul shooting.
“We’d played a tough game with West and used up some emotion against Carson, and then we found ourselves in a really tough game against a North team that’s very good,” Causby said. “They were exploiting all our mistakes.”
North inched to a 34-31 lead on a swooping drive by Givens midway through the third quarter. Hailey’s 3-pointer got the Hornets even.
Reggie Smyre hit two free throws for a 40-38 North lead with 1:38 left in the third quarter, but Knox’s extra-effort rebound bucket tied it and started the Hornets (5-3) on a decisive 21-3 run.
Rankin hit a free throw and a jump shot to put the Hornets ahead to stay at the start of the fourth quarter. Then Rankin sprawled headlong on the floor to slap a loose ball ahead to Knox, who finished a fastbreak for a 45-40 lead.
“I knew North would really come us after because this was for a championship,” Rankin said. “But we were able to stay aggressive all the way through. We’ve gotten after each other in practice the last two weeks. That prepared us.”
Another 3-pointer by Hailey finally provided separation, and it was 59-43 before the exhausted Cavaliers scored again.
“We played our hearts out, left it on the floor,” North senior guard Greg Sims said. “But there at the end, we were like a car that’s running out of gas.”
North did prove it has a bright future.
“We played extremely hard before we kind of ran out of steam in the fourth quarter,” North coach Kelly Everhart said. “We’d used all of our timeouts earlier trying to stay in the game so we couldn’t give our guys any more breathers. And Salisbury never stopped coming. They can put pressure on you like not many teams can.”