Shaw column: Dillard came up big for Davie
SALISBURY — Nobody said it was going to be easy for Davie County’s boys basketball team Wednesday night, only that it would be worth it.
So on a night when its two leading scorers were handcuffed to the bench — one with a left foot injury and another for making a wide-of-the-mark decision — the War Eagles turned to Shannon Dillard. That’s Mr. Shannon Dillard to you and me.
“I know it’s a cliche but people have to step up,” coach Mike Absher said after top-seeded Davie outlasted West Rowan in a thrill-a-minute Christmas Classic semifinal at Goodman Gym. “And he was one of those guys for us. We were facing some adversity, but he played like he’s been through this before.”
Dillard, a 6-foot-4 senior, played better than anyone in the building when it mattered most. He finessed and muscled and pump-faked his way for 17 points in the fourth quarter of a four-point victory. Never mind if that wasn’t the way he had it scripted.
“It was a pretty hard night. Nothing easy about it,” he said with the calmness of a theater usher. “Especially when Caleb (Martin) came out in the first half. We realized we had to be a team and show how good we are in order to win the game.”
Martin — a 6-6 sophomore and half of Davie’s twin-powers frontcourt — was injured trying to corral a first-quarter rebound. He played only seven minutes and his final stats resembled a pearl necklace: 0-0-0-0-0. Without him and the 25.9 points-per-game suspended guard Nate Jones normally provides, X-rays of Davie’s future appeared negative.
“It didn’t look good,” said Cody Martin, Caleb’s twin brother and the sniper who lit up West Rowan like a Christmas tree in the first half. “It meant we had to bear down and focus a little more. But we weren’t going to let little things like that push us aside.”
It was Dillard who applied the heart paddles after West surged to a 60-56 lead following Seth Martin’s three-point bank shot from deep in the left corner with 4:12 remaining. He fueled a pivotal 10-0 spree by scoring six points in three minutes.
“He didn’t take any bad shots, especially during that stretch,” Absher praised. “That’s a senior playing like a senior.”
There was Dillard’s putback that drew the War Eagles within two. Another layup after snatching one of his 10 rebounds made it 63-60. And a pair of free throws when he converted both ends of a one-and-one provided a six-point edge with 39.3 seconds to play.
“I told everyone on the bench that I was going to come through for us,” Dillard said after shooting 8-for-11 from the field and netting a team-best 26 points. “I was going to finish this game for us. It was pretty scary, playing without two of our starters. But we were determined to win tonight.”
Their reward is a championship-game matchup with No. 2 seed North Rowan. Jones will return and Caleb Martin will be a game-time decision, but none of that would have been newsworthy without Dillard’s headline-grabbing performance.
“When we were struggling offensively in the second half, he was there making big buckets,” said Davis Absher, the coach’s son who contributed seven assists. “I’ve seen him make that two-dribble, turn-around jump shot for three years. He just one of those guys who answers the call.”
The game was a Christmas treat for the overflow crowd that sardined itself into the gym — and much to admire on the court. Dillard’s effort overshadowed the works of teammate Cody Martin (22 first-half points) and West’s Keshun Sherrill (a game-high 28), who rallied the fourth-seeded Falcons to a 33-31 halftime lead.
Yet when they rolled the final credits, it was Dillard’s name that deserved top billing. He did more than help Davie out of a tight spot and win for the 10th time in 11 games. He got noticed.
“People know all about the twins and Nathan,” he said. “Maybe they forgot about me. Guess I had to do what I had to do tonight.”
On this night it was just enough — and certainly worth it.