Prep Basketball: Salisbury boys 47, North 45
By Mike London
SALISBURY — Salisbury guard Buster Hillie tossed a desperate, running 65-footer toward the rim as the third quarter expired.
“It was like a prayer,” Hillie explained. “But then I see that ball drifting toward the hoop, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, it’s got a chance!’ And then it goes in, and all kinds of thoughts are rushing through my head and people are slapping me on the back.”
Hillie’s heavenly heave was the clear-cut turning point in Salisbury’s amazing 47-45 win against previously unbeaten North Rowan on Saturday night at Catawba.
Until that shot, North (6-1) was in command, but the final eight minutes belonged to the surging Hornets (4-3).
“It was a game-changer, a momentum-changer, all of that,” Salisbury coach Jason Causby said. “When that ball went in, the lead went from 10 to seven, and we knew we had a chance. It gave us energy.”
It was a tremendous game, the low score a product of patient offenses and shot-blocking defenses, rather than sloppiness.
Salisbury was on the right end of a disputable block-charge call with 30 seconds left and benefited from a no-call when Tony Nunn appeared to be guilty of walking a few seconds later, but it’s not like the Hornets didn’t earn their victory.
Nunn was a tower of strength. Tion McCain made shots. D.J. Griffin was a force on both ends of the floor. Keion Adam made five pressure-packed free throws in the last 30 seconds.
Salisbury overcame a double-digit deficit against a team that’s been blowing people away, and you have to give credit for that.
“Jason and his team did an outstanding job, and I don’t want to take anything away from them,” frustrated North coach Andrew Mitchell said. “We tried to go big in the fourth quarter, and it backfired on us. We had a little bit of a meltdown and they beat us with their guards.”
North’s Malik Ford had two wicked dunks in the early going, and the talented Cavs led 14-10 after a quarter.
Ford blocked four shots in the second quarter, and teammate Pierre Givens was awesome — driving, dishing and scoring. Givens measured a poised 3-pointer that beat the halftime buzzer and gave the Cavs a 26-17 lead at the break.
The Hornets were reeling at the end of the half, but the 6-foot-8 Nunn, who finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks, offered hope to Salisbury fans when he hammered home a dunk to start the second half.
“They had two big bodies on me a lot (Ford and Tydler Watlington), so it was power against power,” Nunn said. “I thought that flush might give us some momentum.”
It did — temporarily.
But when North’s Oshon West, who led the Cavs with 13 points, converted back-to-back buckets in transition, the Cavs led 34-24 midway through the third quarter.
When Jordan Kimber hit a free throw for North with seven seconds left in the quarter, the Cavs were in control 37-27, but then Hillie’s prayer got an answer, and the Salisbury crowd shook the gym with noise.
“One of my teammates told me shots like that don’t go in for no reason,” Hillie said. “We started thinking we were supposed to win this game.”
Griffin’s defense quieted the crafty Givens, Nunn won muscular battles in the paint, and the Hornets started gaining ground.
“We were playing with 100-percent intensity,” Nunn said.
Nunn’s wheeling, three-point play with 4:30 on the clock closed the gap. When Nunn scored inside with 2:18 left to play, it was 42-all.
“I really don’t think we’re a good team yet,” Causby said. “But we did show grit and heart. We made a heck of a run at them.”
A free throw by West put North ahead 43-42, but with 30 seconds left, Adams drove hard and Kimber did everything in his power to take a charge. He injured his chest on the play but was called for a block. Then Adams made two clutch free throws to put the Hornets on top 44-43.
“I was nervous at first,” Adams said. “But I feel like I can make free throws, and they fell in there.”
After Kimber drove and didn’t get the whistle he was looking for, Nunn rebounded, and Adams hit two more free ones with 14 seconds left.
When Kimber missed a 3, Michael Connor got a stickback with six seconds left to cut Salisbury’s lead to 46-45.
Adams was fouled again and made one free throw for a 47-45 edge before North’s Michael Bowman missed a desperation heave at the end.
“We didn’t get any calls, and it really hurts to lose to a big rival,” Kimber said. “But we’ll keep our heads up and we’ll learn from it.”
NORTH ROWAN (45) — West 13, Givens 12, Kimber 7, Ford 4, Connor 4, Watlington 3, Chambers 2, Barber, Bowman.
SALISBURY (47) — McCain 12, Nunn 11, Griffin 10, B. Hillie 7, Adams 7, Tracey, Duncan, J. Petty, Woods.
N. Rowan 14 12 11 8 — 45
Salisbury 10 7 13 17 — 47