Prep Basketball: North Rowan boys 34, Albemarle 28
By Mike London
SPENCER — Cat-and-mouse stall ball ruled a matchup of YVC titans, but fans saw serious drama the last two minutes.
North Rowan beat Albemarle 34-28 on Friday — seriously, 34-28 — to stay perfect in the league. North (14-3, 10-0) went scoreless in the third quarter, but it won its eighth straight game.
“The goal was to find some way to get out of this gym with a win,” drained North coach Andrew Mitchell said. “I’m very proud of our guys. This is a speed game, and they wanted to go, but they stayed disciplined. They did everything we asked, and they finished. I see progress from earlier when we were losing games like this.”
The low score was the result of Albemarle’s tenacious 1-2-2 zone that held North big men Javon Hargrave and Malik Ford without a field goal.
North couldn’t get the ball inside and doesn’t shoot all that well outside. Once, the Cavs got a lead, Mitchell refused to play against the 1-2-2, and his team pulled the ball out to the midcourt area.
Albemarle coach Al Andrew wasn’t interested in abandoning his effective defense, not as long as his team was within striking distance. So North held it, and Albemarle stayed back and watched for long stretches.
North’s Pierre Givens squeezed the rock, while his teammates stood passively in a four-corners setup.
“We did what we needed to do to try to win the ballgame, and Coach Mitchell did what he needed to do,” Andrew said. “North’s bigger than we are and they’re quicker than we are, and it’s hard for us to match up with them.”
North controlled the first half. Albemarle managed just five field goals, and the Cavaliers got nine points from guard Sam Starks and a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Jordan Kimber— he banked it — for a 28-18 lead.
“I didn’t make that shot — that was the Lord,” Kimber said with a laugh. “That was just a very hard miss.”
The Cavs needed those points when Albemarle’s Berwyn Bennett came alive in the third quarter. Bennett scored down low, swatted a shot by Hargave, then scored again. Suddenly, North’s lead was only 28-22.
With five minutes left in the third quarter and with his team showing no sign of solving the 1-2-2, Mitchell instructed Givens to hold the ball. Seconds, then minutes, ticked away.
“Coach is the man, and we’ll do what he says,” Starks said. “I was relaxed. If holding the ball is what we needed to do, then we were glad to hold it.”
North didn’t score again in the quarter, and Albemarle (9-3, 7-2) inched one point closer when 5-foot-7 freshman Gregory Childress made a free throw after Mitchell was called for a technical. Mitchell wasn’t livid with the refs, but he threw down a water bottle.
With 5:40 left in the game, it was still 28-23 — a decent, two-possession scenario for Albemarle on the road — and Andrew had his team match up.
Albemarle’s Terance Christian took a charge on a driving Givens. Then Bennett scored in the paint, and it was 28-25 with 3:35 remaining.
Kimber missed two free throws with 1:38 left to play, and Childress swished a big-time shot — a rainbow 3 from the right wing — to tie it for the Bulldogs with 1:15 to go.
With 51 seconds left, Kimber ended North’s 15-minute scoring drought with a pullup jumper for a 30-28 lead.
“I had to make up for those missed free throws,” he said.
When Childress missed a 17-foot jumper with 30 seconds to go, Hargrave ripped down a manly rebound.
Givens missed the front end of a one-and-one with 23 seconds to go, and Christian briefly had the board, but Hargave tied him up and the Cavaliers kept the ball.
Kimber missed a one-and-one with 18 seconds left, but Hargave grabbed the rebound. Bennett blocked his stickback, but Givens came up with the ball and was fouled.
With 13 seconds left, Givens calmly made two free throws — one after a timeout — for a four-point cushion.
“For most of the night, we had to play Albemarle’s game, but at the end, we made them play our game,” Givens said.
Albemarle’s Nat Dunlap was fouled on a 3-pointer with 4.2 seconds left, but he missed all three free throws.
Then Ford hit two at the line to give North the six-point victory.
ALBEMARLE (28)— Bennett 7, Hamilton 6, Christian 6, Childress 4, Taylor 3, Dunlap 2, Dockery, Williams.
NORTH ROWAN (34) — Starks 9, Givens 9, Kimber 5, Connor 5, T. Bates 2, A. Bates 2, Ford 2, Hargrave, Bowman, Chambers
Albemarle 9 9 5 5 — 28
N Rowan 12 16 0 6 — 34