GRANITE QUARRY — Midway through the third quarter, Hickory Ridge was pulling away from the East Rowan Mustangs, thanks to a swarming, swatting defense.
Ragin’ Bulls coach Robert Machado slapped hands with forward Jalen Stowe and exulted “…See how easy this game is when you play good defense?”
Defense was the key all night for Hickory Ridge as it created one easy scoring opportunity after another in downing the Mustangs 63-48 in a non-conference battle.
The Mustangs (1-2) were forced to play short-handed due to injuries and illness to three players but stiil forged to a 20-17 lead in the second quarter behind long range shooter Donte Means. They quickly wilted under the defensive pressure however, as the Ragin’ Bulls (2-0) went on a 14-0 run to lead 31-20.
When they opened the second half with a pair of long threes by Stowe and Nick Hough, plus two fast break layups off steals, Hickory Ridge had the separation they needed with a 48-33 lead. It was a 14-5 run to close out the quarter and the margin never got closer than 11 after that.
“We were just physically spent,” East coach Trey Ledbetter said, “ We really were down to just a five-man rotation instead of our usual eight-man. But we played hard. You can’t fault our effort. All things considered, I think our players stepped up and tried to fill their roles.”
Means, a junior guard, provided the Mustangs with a big first half spark as he rained in a trio of threes and notched 18 points by halftime. But the Hickory Ridge defensive pressure affected him the most in the second half as he was unable to score again.
Sophomore guard Conor Honeycutt picked up a lot of the slack with nine points while Josh Gobble added seven points and nine rebounds.
“For us to go out and make that defensive statement and extend our lead in the third period was really critical, “Machado stated. “We were able to get in the passing lanes more and create some steals and easy lay-ups. I am proud of the way we responded.”
The Ragin’ Bulls, who return to Rowan Friday to face the Carson Cougars for the second time this season, were led by Hough with 17 and nine each from Stowe and guard Nick Frazier.
East faces a tough bounce-back tonight when they host talented Kannapolis. The Mustangs play at Northwest Cabarrus on Thursday.
“It is a week of attrition for us and we will be down to just eight players all week,” Ledbetter noted. “ But we just have to play with what we’ve got and compete as hard as we can. I am sure our guys will respond.”
HICKORY RIDGE (63) — Nick 17, Frazier 9, Stowe 9, Metcalfe 6, Tibbs 6, Stafford 5, Porch 4, Freeman 4, Komendat 3
EAST ROWAN(00) — Means 18, Honeycutt 9, Gobble 7, Seth Wyrick 6, Same Wyrick 5, Bell 2, Corpening 1, Moses, Hedrick, Brown.
H. Ridge 16 18 19 10 — 63
E. Rowan 15 11 10 12 — 48