Prep Basketball: East Rowan 42, West Rowan 39
By Mike London
GRANITE QUARRY — East Rowan senior Jordan Shepherd knew his last-second shot from the top of the circle was going in, and apparently so did everyone in East’s student section.
Jordan’s game-winner had barely swished through the cords when he and his teammates were mobbed by delirious, red-clad supporters.
It’s official. The East boys are no longer the Easy boys. If anyone had any lingering thoughts that the Mustangs were a hoax or a fluke, all doubts were dispelled by a scintillating 42-39 victory over visiting West Rowan.
“We’ve progressed,” Shepherd said. “We’ve gotten better when the heat is on. We’re a much different team now, and it’s so much fun.”
East, which won three times in the last two seasons combined, claimed its fifth straight victory on Monday and ended a seven-game losing skid against the Falcons. The Mustangs (6-4, 3-0) are the only unbeaten in the NPC.
“That was Rowan County basketball at its finest,” said East coach Trey Ledbetter. “What a game! I’m like a kid in a candy store right now.”
West coach Mike Gurley watched his team roar from behind in the fourth quarter to go in front, but East stayed resilient. When Alexis Archie drained a 3-pointer with 3:47 left, the Falcons (4-3, 2-1) led 37-31, but West managed just two points the rest of the way.
“We shoulda set our foot on the gas and extended that lead once we got it,” said Keshun Sherrill, who led the Falcons with 17 points, six rebounds and five assists. “But East is a fundamental team. For 32 minutes, they executed.”
The game followed the blueprint for an East victory. It wasn’t stall-ball, but it was patient-ball. East point guard Roby Holmes did one heck of a job controlling tempo.
“Kudos to East all the way around,” Gurley said. “We didn’t play our best tonight, but we played hard. They just got more open shots than we did and they executed a lot better than we did.”
West is bigger, faster and stronger, but the game was played almost exclusively in the halfcourt. East has seniors, and it calmly ran its stuff every possession. When West had a rare transition opportunity, it usually squandered it with a missed layup or a hurried pass out of bounds.
Sherrill scored five quick points to start the game, but Ledbetter used some box-and-one, with Holmes on Sherrill, and that kept Sherrill from scoring a quick knockout.
East led 12-10 after a quarter. With Shepherd making two second-quarter 3s, East led 22-18 at halftime.
The teams traded punches throughout a deliberate third quarter. Maurice Warren’s turnaround jumper gave the Falcons a 32-31 lead at the end of the period.
It looked bleak for the Mustangs after Jarvis Morgan smashed down a dunk, and Sherrill dished to Archie, and the freshman drilled his third 3 of the night. West owned a 7-0 run and a six-point lead with 3:43 to play.
“That was gutcheck time for East,” Gurley said. “And that’s also where we should’ve done a lot better job finishing than we did.”
Hakeem Gittens’ driving bucket at the 3:22 mark stopped the bleeding. Gittens is under 6 feet tall, but he rebounded like a 7-footer. He was the game’s top rebounder with eight caroms.
“Hakeem works his butt off,” Shepherd said. “His rebounding was the difference in the game.”
Weston Rogers’s driving three-point play cut West’s lead to one, and when Sherrill was called for an offensive foul — he made a bit of contact with Tyler L’Hommedieu — East had momentum.
With 1:18 to play. Jared Hough let fly with a confident 3-pointer from right in front of the East students, and the Mustangs went up 39-37.
“Yeah, the crowd loved that one,” Hough said. “They ate it up, and it snowballed.”
Sherrill attacked immediately, got fouled, and calmly swished two free throws for a 39-39 tie with 1:03 left.
West had fouls to give, and both teams used timeouts, but from that point on, East planned to take the last shot.
The guy Ledbetter wanted to take the shot was obviously Shepherd, East’s best shooter and leading scorer, even though he was going to be guarded by the 6-foot-3 Morgan, West’s most athletic defender.
Shepherd was 4-for-13 when he took that final shot, and Morgan had soared to reject his first shot attempt.
“Jarvis had done a real good job on him,” Ledbetter said. “Jarvis is so long and he’s a very good defender.”
Holmes had a lane to drive, but stayed patient. Hough had a look with three seconds left, but he flipped the ball back to Shepherd, and Morgan got caught between them. Shepherd let it go, and the ball found the net as time expired.
“It was dead-on,” Shepherd said. “And I knew it.”
Ledbetter looked like a lottery-winner, beaming and hugging everyone in sight.
“Jordan wanted that shot, and he made that shot,” he said. “The rest is history.”
WEST ROWAN (39) — Sherrill 17, Archie 9, J. Morgan 6, Warren 4, Martin 3, Parks, Tucker, Reddick, Gallagher, T, Morgan, Cuthbertson
EAST ROWAN (42) — Shepherd 14, Hough 9, Gittens 8, Rogers 5, Gobble 4, Holmes 2, Honeycutt, L’Hommedieu.
W. Rowan 10 8 14 7 — 39
E. Rowan 12 10 9 11 — 42