East Rowan 55, South Rowan 49: Mustangs win first game of season
By David Shaw
LANDIS — East Rowan’s perfectly awful season is perfect no more.
The Mustangs snapped a 28-game losing streak and gave rookie coach Trey Ledbetter his first victory Wednesday night — a thrilling 55-49 nod over host South Rowan.
“These kids have been wanting this forever,” Ledbetter said after East (1-12, 1-4 NPC) made a mess of South coach John Davis’ birthday. “They’ve been playing hard all year. Finally they did it for 32 minutes and look at the outcome. We did not have to match somebody’s intensity tonight. We made them match ours.”
It was a see-saw affair and the outcome wasn’t cemented until East converted eight of 10 free throws in the final 1:07. The Mustangs hit 11 of 14 from the stripe in the decisive fourth quarter.
“When you put them on the free throw line, that’s what they do,” Davis said after South (3-11, 0-4) slid into the conference basement. “You foul them, they go to the line and they’re supposed to hit them.”
East hadn’t been on the winning side of a handshake line since capturing back-to-back non-league decisions over Salisbury and J.M. Robinson in December, 2009. In the recent Sam Moir Christmas Classic at Goodman Gym, South battered the Mustangs 56-41 in a consolation game.
“We just came in here with the big heads,” South senior Brad Akers said. “We thought it would be an easy win.”
They thought wrong. East was paced by Avery Rogers, who scored 11 of his game-best 17 points in the final period. Teammate Hakeem Gittens added 16, including two on a backwards, over-the-shoulder bank shot as he was fouled and tumbling to the floor with 7:31 remaining.
“I didn’t think it was that big a play,” said Gittens, who sank the ensuing free throw to give East a 35-34 lead. “I knew I was fouled, but I thought it was on the floor. I ended up just throwing the ball toward the basket.”
It was a memorable play in a memorable game. Another came when Ledbetter was whistled for a technical foul late in the first half. SR’s Mark McDaniel made the two free throws to give the Raiders a 34-30 lead, capping a 17-2 run and erasing the final remnants of East’s 28-15 second-quarter advantage.
“I thought they were hand-checking galore,” Ledbetter explained afterward. “Nothing was getting called. We couldn’t handle them bullying us like that. Did it make a difference? I don’t know.”
Rogers did. “I think (Ledbetter) was trying to fire us up,” the senior swingman noted. “Anybody could see we were starting to die out there. But we kept our composure.”
Rogers provided a few more thrills when he took over the fourth quarter. Twice he provided one-point East leads, then made it 45-40 on a unharnessed drive-and-layup down the lane with 2:42 to play.
“Avery takes losing the hardest of anybody,” Ledbetter said. “And he played last year with this team. So he had lost many, many, many games in a row. He put us on his shoulders and carried us to the end tonight.”
It wasn’t until ER’s Weston Rogers, Avery’s cousin, hit a pair of free throws that gave the Mustangs an eight-point lead with 25.1 seconds remaining that anybody relaxed.
For Davis, it was a birthday he’d rather forget.
“We turned it over three straight possessions in the fourth quarter,” he lamented. “We missed a layup, going in for a left-handed layup and we shoot it with the right hand. We hit a cheerleader in the stands with a pass. This was just uncharacteristic of us.”
EAST ROWAN (55) — A.Rogers 17, Gittens 16, W.Rogers 7, Hough 6, Oglesby 4, Shepherd 3, Gobble 2, Holmes, Honeycutt, Driver.
SOUTH ROWAN (49) — Gaddy 13, Akers 12, McDaniel 7, Lambert 5, Medlin 4, Sharpe 3, Tyler 3, Neal 2, Boulware, Hubbard, Miller, Parker.
E. Rowan 12 12 8 23 — 55
S. Rowan 8 7 19 15 — 49