Prep basketball: Salisbury boys 47, East Rowan 44

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 6, 2011

By Mike London
GRANITE QUARRY — East Rowan’s Hakeem Gittens threw down a one-handed breakaway dunk — yes, a rare slam by a Mustang — and the East gym exploded with energy on Monday night.
Salisbury still weathered an emotional crowd and an inspired team to escape with a 47-44 decision. The Hornets survived because Buster Hillie went 7-for-8 at the foul line at crunch time, with the game hanging by a slim thread.
East (1-4) had a cohesiveness edge because it was playing for the fifth time. Salisbury (2-0) had more height and more talent, but it’s still feeling its way. The Hornets debuted Saturday.
“We’re still trying to figure out what we can and can’t do,” relieved Salisbury coach Jason Causby said. “I’m not happy at all with the job I did, but our kids fought and got a win.”
It appeared to a zero-suspense game early.
East had the worst start since Mr. Naismith hung that first peach basket. The Mustangs missed their first 12 shots and committed six turnovers and were awkwardly staring at a 14-0 deficit. At that point, you probably could have gotten the Mustangs and 50 points in a friendly wager with the fellow in the next row.
“We came out real flat,” said Jordan Shepherd, who led the Mustangs with 13 points. “But then we realized they weren’t hitting from outside and we started playing some of the most intense defense we’ve ever played.”
East played 2-3 zone and packed everyone back into the paint in an attempt to keep the ball out of the hands of the long-armed Tony Nunn, who led the Hornets with 15 points. The Mustangs, who got scrappy defense from freshman Conor Honeycutt, also held their own on the boards whenever the Hornets missed from deep.
After Shepherd fed Josh Gobble for the bucket that finally put East on the board, the Mustangs closed the second quarter on a 17-4 run to trail 18-17 at halftime. Salisbury made just one field goal in the second quarter.
“We played very well early, but East didn’t fold,” Causby said. “Then they slowed us down, and we got into a halfcourt game.”
East actually had a couple of leads in the third quarter — after Gittens’ dunk and again after his flying scoop made it 21-20 — but Nunn asserted himself for seven third-quarter points to push the Hornets ahead 27-25.
East trailed 29-27 with 6:45 left to play when Shepherd reacted to a foul call and was hit with a technical. Nunn made a free throw, and Tyler Petty hit a technical free throw to push the Hornets’ lead to four.
Salisbury guard Dejoun Jones competed at the rim with Gittens all night, and Jones then won a high-flying scrap with Gittens for a stickback and a 33-27 lead.
“Hakeem and I were teammates back at North Rowan Middle School,” Jones said with a smile. “We always have a battle.”
East got seven points in the fourth quarter from Jared Hough, but it never caught up because Hillie was money at the foul line.
“That was just a really strong effort on Hillie’s part, but I can’t say enough about how hard we fought,” East coach Trey Ledbetter said. “We had 17 turnovers and lost by three. That tells you how good our defense was.”
But it was Salisbury that notched the win.
“Mistakes hurt us, and it was not good to let them come back after we had them 14-0,” Jones said. “But we’ll get better.”
SALISBURY (47) — Nunn 15, B. Hillie 8, Jones 6, Adams 6, Duncan 3, McCain 3, Robertson 2, Tracey 2, T. Petty 1, Griffin 1, Banner.
EAST ROWAN (44) — Shepherd 13, Hough 11, Gittens 9, Gobble 7, Honeycutt 2, L’Hommedieu 2, Holmes, D. Nelson, Means, Rogers.
Salisbury 14 4 9 20 — 47
E. Rowan 4 13 8 19 — 44