Salisbury 92, Lexington 89, 2OTs
By David Shaw
LEXINGTON — It took a monumental effort, but Salisbury has fired the first volley in what promises to be a heated fight for the CCC title.
The Hornets overcame a 16-point deficit Tuesday night at Lexington, then survived a whip-cracking, molar-grinding, edge-of-your-seat finish to capture their conference opener.
“I can’t say I’ve ever been in a game like this,” senior Darien Rankin exhaled after Salisbury gained a 92-89 double-overtime win. “We just had to keep pushing and pushing and working the whole time.”
Rankin shouldered the heaviest burden, shredding the nets for 33 points to match his career high. He played like a man possessed in the second OT, when he scored on a fastbreak jam, a putback and a pair of free throws to lift SHS (8-4 overall) to its fifth win in the past six games.
“Darien carried us tonight,” said winning coach Justin Morgan. “I think he just decided he wasn’t gonna come out here in his senior year and go down without a fight. He showed us what a spectacular player he is.”
On this night he had to be. Lexington (5-9, 0-1) built a 47-31 lead on C.J. Woodbury’s layup early in the third quarter and could have put the game on cruise control and coasted home.
“Everybody had their head down,” Salisbury junior Jarett Rivens said, after contributing 14 points and 14 rebounds. “Then they called timeout and reminded us there was still plenty of time left. I’ve been down like that before, so I knew anything was possible.”
Salisbury’s comeback coincided with Romar Morris’ entry into the game midway through the third quarter. He made an immediate impact defensively, foiling a number of Lexington scoring attempts and triggering a frantic 14-0 Salisbury run that drew the Hornets within 49-48 late in the period.
“Romar gave us a huge spurt,” said Morgan. “A lot of times he goes unnoticed because he’s a defender. I know he doesn’t go unnoticed on a football field, but in basketball he’s like our offensive lineman.”
Losing coach Robert Hairston felt the spree was decisive. “We quit doing what we do,” he said. “We stopped playing and started watching.”
It remained a close game until the final buzzer. Lexington led 71-69 and had possession with just seconds remaining in regulation. That’s when senior Al Challenger used an interesting technique to melt the final three seconds — he lofted the ball straight up toward the ceiling.
“It was a good idea,” said Hairston. “But there’s a thing called fate — and it just wasn’t our turn. That’s life.”
Challenger’s stalling tactic backfired when his toss hit a rafter and the ball crashed to the court. SHS took possession on the turnover with three-tenths of a second remaining and, following a timeout, tied the score when John Knox and Rankin executed a perfect ally-oop.
“They thought I was going to come to the ball,” said Rankin. “But Alex (Weant) set a backside screen and it left me wide open at the basket. It fired all of us up.”
That momentum carried into overtime. Rankin totaled 19 points in the fourth quarter and two extra sessions. “Hey, the game isn’t over until the buzzer goes off,” Rivens said. “Until then, we were confident we’d win.”
NOTES: Rankin also pulled down seven rebounds, and Weant grabbed 10. … Salisbury hosts East Davidson on Friday.
SALISBURY (92) — Rankin 33, Murphy 16, Rivens 14, Knox 13, Petty 7, Weant 6, McCain 3, Morris, Wood, Wilkins.
LEXINGTON (89) — Challenger 31, Boger 15, Crump 14, McCown 7, Covington 7, Woodberry 6, Horton 5, Holloway 2, Jackson 2.
Salisbury 20 9 21 21 13 8 — 92
Lexington 16 25 12 18 13 5 — 89