Prep Basketball: Salisbury boys 59, Thomasville 56
By Mike London
THOMASVILLE — Comparing scores often doesn’t mean squat.
Salisbury beat Davie by 15 points for the Sam Moir Christmas Classic title about a week after Davie destroyed Thomasville 91-54.
On paper, Salisbury’s visit to Thomasville’s gym on Saturday looked like a stroll in the park. Instead, it was a struggle for survival.
“Thomasville’s kids really accepted the challenge,” Salisbury coach Justin Morgan said. “We were lucky to get a hard-earned win.”
The Hornets escaped 59-56, and they were thrilled to win by any margin.
“There was a lot of intensity out there today,” Salisbury warrior Darien Rankin said. “Thomasville fought us with everything they had. If you took the ball in the paint, you had to be strong.”
Both teams were shorthanded. Thomasville’s dapper coach Tony Clark said he was missing a center and a shooter, while Morgan had to adjust his normal rotation with point guard John Knox on a football recruiting visit and Tyler Petty sidelined by an ankle injury.
Fortunately for the Hornets, Rankin is Rankin. He took command at crunch-time to keep the Hornets (13-4, 6-0) unbeaten in the CCC.
Rankin and Jarrett Rivens scored 17 points each. Corey Murphy got 11 of his 13 in the second half and drilled three 3-pointers.
Rivens, who moved to Salisbury from Danville, Va., in October, also had 16 rebounds. He’s emerging as a star. He’s scored 65 points in the Hornets’ last four games and probably has had 65 rebounds. The 6-foot-6 lefty is also proficient at the lost art of whipping an outlet pass to start a fastbreak.
“I was uptight when I first started playing,” Rivens said. “I’m more comfortable here now that I’ve gotten to know my teammates and coaches.”
Thomasville (5-12, 2-3) wasn’t interested in letting any of the Hornets get comfortable, forcing a Daytona 500 pace and constantly attacking the rim.
“We knew we were playing the top team in the league today, and when you do that, your kids look at the game as a barometer of where you want to be,” Clark said. “We saw today we could play right up there with Salisbury.”
Salisbury needed a sweet floater by Rankin to lead 14-10 after a quarter.
A ferocious three-point play by Rivens made it 17-10, and Rankin, doing lots of the ballhandling with Knox missing, followed with a 3-ball and a high-flying dunk off a lob by Tion McCain that had even Thomasville fans high-fiving.
Rankin unloaded a wicked tomahawk dunk on a runout just a few minutes after his alley-oop.
The tomahawk was the sort of momentum-changing slam that knocks teams out, but the Bulldogs weren’t going anywhere. They kept attacking relentlessly, and Salisbury’s halftime lead was just 30-26.
The second half followed the same pattern — Salisbury pushing out by 10, the Bulldogs charging right back.
The pivotal moment came with Salisbury’s lead down to 44-42 with 6:49 left. Thomasville was on a spurt and the gym was getting loud, but Rankin had the ball in his hands.
He penetrated and dished to Rivens for a layup that was probably the game’s biggest bucket. After Rivens scored inside again, Rankin spotted Murphy alone in the left corner. Murphy buried a 3-pointer, and the lead was back to nine with 4:40 to go.
“Darien had banged up his knee and had to sit some at the end of the third quarter,” Morgan said. “But we’ve got a lot of kids who are all about winning. He was going to do something to help us win.”
Rankin sealed it with a driving bucket for a 57-47 edge with 1:50 to go.
“Rankin is phenomenal player, and this game is just so easy for him,” Clark said. “He’s also a quality young man. UNC (Rankin will be a football signee next week) is getting a great addition.”
Missed Hornet free throws and a last-second 3-pointer helped the feisty Bulldogs get within 59-56 at the end.
“We were the much bigger team,” Rivens summed up. “We just had to keep playing as hard as they were.”
SALISBURY (59)— Rivens 17, Rankin 17, Murphy 13, Weant 7, Wilkins 3, McCain 2, Adams, Woods, Morris.
THOMASVILLE (56) — Cuthbertson 12, Williams 11, Irving 10, Merchant 10, Davis 6, Johnson 4, Watkins 3,
Salisbury 14 16 11 18 — 59
Thomasville 10 16 12 18 — 56