Shaw column: For Cavaliers, this loss cut deep

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 24, 2012

SPENCER — There are losses that leave a team discouraged, its ego bruised and its heart crushed.
This one cut an artery and spilled North Rowan green, yellow and white all over the court.
“It just hurts so bad,” Daniel Chambers said after North’s season — and its reign as defending 1A state champion — capsized in a sea of reality. “When it was time to execute, they executed. We didn’t.”
It wasn’t merely that the journey was over, that this three-month quest to repeat was abruptly halted halfway through the state playoffs.
And it wasn’t simply that this was the team second-year coach Andrew Mitchell believed could run the table. Last year’s over-achievers rode a wave of emotion as adroitly as a champion surfer, all the way to Raleigh and all those glowing, suitable-for-framing moments. But this year’s team — this was the group built for the long run, a squad with destiny tucked in its back pocket.
A team we all thought would enjoy a guided tour through the postseason.
“If we had all the pieces we started with, we would have,” Mitchell said, staring blankly across the gym like someone watching his prized yacht sink. “We lost T.J. Bates, our best defender. Jordan Kimber, our leader. We weren’t the same team we were last year.”
Neither was visiting Monroe. North has been living rent-free in the Redhawks’ heads since last year’s playoffs, when North dethroned them with a third-round upset.
“We talked about that,” man-of-the-moment Brandon Roddy said after Monroe returned the favor in excruciating fashion. “Everybody was doubting us. You know, they won the state last year and beat us to get there. We just said, ‘No more. Let’s play smart in all situations and make better decisions.’ ”
North made a few it wish it hadn’t. The Cavs trailed 10-6 with zero-point-zero seconds left in the first quarter when big man Malik Ford was called for a feather-light hack on Roddy. The ensuing free throws, though insignificant at the time, cast a pall of frustration over North’s bench.
Mitchell refused to criticize the officials but pointed to a glaring stat: Monroe converted 19 free throws while the Cavs attempted just 17.
“And Malik,” Mitchell said, “he was getting beat up inside every time we tried to get it in to him. He didn’t have that many touches.”
Another regrettable play unfolded with 6:35 remaining in the first half, when Ford back-rimmed an attempted stuff following an alley-oop pass from Pierre Givens.
“Sometimes that helps a team,” said Mitchell. “Sometimes it doesn’t.”
Then there was Oshon West, a junior who missed last year’s magic carpet ride to the title because he was enrolled at North Hills Christian. It was safe to assume he wanted this more than anyone in the building. Held scoreless in the first half, he netted 12 second-half points in a gallant effort.
“I told him he needed to be a man and take over,” Mitchell reported.
West made a costly mistake after making a steal near the scorer’s table with a minute to play in the third quarter of a four-point game. Instead of settling into an offensive set, he launched an ill-advised 3-pointer from the right side that caromed off the backboard.
“I wish he’d made a different decision,” Mitchell said. “I wish a lot of things tonight.”
Wishes and hopes and dreams — even Gladys Knight & The Pips know they don’t always come true. And this one crashed and burned when Roddy drained a 3-ball with 21 seconds to go, capping Monroe’s 10-2 finishing kick.
“It’s pretty hard to walk away,” said Michael Connor, one of the few Cavs who weren’t inconsolable. “This was a great team that had a great season.”
A season that left without saying goodbye.