GRANITE QUARRY — East Rowan’s Donte Means missed a free throw with 2.9 seconds left that likely would’ve sent Wednesday’s game to overtime, but it was hard to fault Means.
That was about the only shot the shifty guard missed in a 54-52 loss to A.L. Brown.
“We’ve been wondering who our go-to offensive guy was going to be and looking for him,” East coach Trey Ledbetter said. “Tonight, we found him.”
Means averaged 3.9 points last season with a high of 11, but his confidence is high after a stellar football season at cornerback. He scored 18 in a loss to Hickory Ridge earlier this week, and he topped that with 22 against the Wonders.
Playing against a team with some quickness, Means was the quickest guy on the floor.
“Donte seemed to be one step ahead of them all night,” Ledbetter said.
The Wonders (3-1) played without star point Derrick Copeland (ankle), and high-flying, 6-foot-6 Tydus Parks played just briefly. Parks’ absence wasn’t injury related. Coach Shelwyn Klutz needed boards, and reserve Demarries Shepherd was providing them.
The Wonders escaped because of Shepherd and backup guard Joekeem Neal. Those two combined for 23 points.
“Means had a tremendous game and East controlled the game and executed better than we did,” Klutz said. “We missed Copeland’s leadership and his shooting, and we had a poor shooting night. We feel lucky to get out of here with a win.”
There was no drama early. The Wonders led 13-0 after seven minutes before East finally got on the board on a bucket by Harrison Bell.
The Wonders led 28-14 late in the first half, but a 3-pointer by Seth Wyrick helped the Mustangs creep within 29-19 at halftime.
East got within two points in the third quarter, but a 3-pointer by another A.L. Brown reserve, Keyshawn Watson, started another spurt by the visitors.
In the fourth quarter, however, the Wonders’ lead steadily melted away.
“We accomplished the things we wanted to,” Ledbetter said. “Defensively, we were making them shoot deep 3s, and they weren’t making many. We also knew we had to limit them to one shot, and in the second half, we usually did that.”
Dock Corpening and Josh Gobble battled hard inside for the Mustangs, and East (1-3) got at least one 3-pointer from six different players.
When Conor Honeycutt hit a 3-pointer with 18 seconds left, East trailed 51-50, and the home crowd was really into it.
Then East fouled muscleman Keeon Johnson, exactly the guy it wanted to foul, with 10 seconds remaining.
Johnson missed on a one-and-one, but Shepherd grabbed the night’s biggest offensive board, and Braxton Waddell canned two free throws to put the Wonders up 53-50.
“Huge board by Shepherd,” Klutz said. “He’s played sparingly in the past, but he’s always kept a good attitude.”
Next, Means rose for a 3-point attempt from the right wing, and Johnson fouled him. Means swished his first free one and rolled in the second, but the third wouldn’t go down.
Tevin Stark got the board for the Wonders and made one free throw with 1.5 seconds left. East’s desperation attempt beat the buzzer but wasn’t close.
“We really wanted to win and stepped our defense up in the second half,” Means said. “What we learned is we have to play hard from the beginning.”
A.L. BROWN (54) — Neal 13, Shepherd 10, Stark 8, Waddell 7, Parks 4, Carr 4, Watson 3, Addison 2, Parker 2, Johnson 1, Williamson.
EAST ROWAN (52) — Means 22, Gobble 8, Honeycutt 6, Sa. Wyrick 6, Bell 5, Se. Wyrick 4, Corpening 1, Hedrick, Weisensel.
A.L. Brown 13 16 14 11 — 54
E. Rowan 5 14 15 18 — 52