Wildcats hold off West
MOUNT ULLA — Mike Gurley had circled this week on his calendar — Lake Norman, Concord, Northwest Cabarrus — as soon as the schedule came out.
Get through this week with his sanity still intact and his team’s confidence still intact, and there was a little light at the end of the tunnel.
“It’s the toughest week of our season,” Gurley said. “This week is like Level 12 in your Xbox game. This is the level where those dragons and monsters start coming after you.”
Pain Week began on Monday in the small blue gym in Mount Ulla with a visit from Lake Norman. Lake Norman has inches, lots and lots of very tall people, led by 6-foot-9 Troy Warren, but Gurley really couldn’t scream much about the way this one went.
West lost 78-73 to fall to 1-5, but it was a more than respectable near-miss against a good, if not incredibly quick, 4A team. While everyone kept waiting for the Falcons to get blown away, they weathered every sharp Lake Norman run and responded with a good one of their own.
Najee Tucker scored a career-best 20 points for West, Seth Martin hit four 3-pointers before fouling out, and Chris Hassard and Zeke Blackwood battled for career highs and combined for 18 points in the paint.
Amazingly enough, when Celexus Long hit a 3-pointer with 1:10 remaining, the Falcons trailed 73-71. But Warren hit two clutch free throws for the Wildcats, Long missed on a one-and-one chance, and the Wildcats (5-1) made enough free thows to escape.
Kishawn Pritchett, a skilled 6-3 wing, led the Wildcats with 18 points. Warren scored 12, and Cooper Scoles, Mike Dezervos and Hunter Seacat cracked double figures.
“It was a good game, but it’s been a long time since there was a West-Lake Norman game that wasn’t good,” Lake Norman coach Brandon Jolly said. “West lacks size and we’ve got size, but we really didn’t take advantage of our height. Our four bigs combined to miss very few shots, but we didn’t get it to them enough.”
Tucker’s seven early points and two buckets by Broderick Avery allowed West to take a 20-17 lead after a quarter against the towering visitors.
“We knew we had to attack the basket, but it was harder tonight than ever because Lake Norman is so big,” Tucker said. “But we played hard like we always do.”
Lake Norman put up 25 points in a fast-paced second quarter and pushed to a 42-33 halftime lead when Pritchett scored at the horn.
“West did the things they had to do to stay in the game,” Jolly said. “They played extremely hard and they pressed us as much as they could. They made it kind of an ugly game, and that’s exactly what our scouting report said they would try to do. With their lack of size, that’s how they want to play.”
It was an even third quarter with West continuing to make free throws and with Martin knocking down two 3s.
Lake Norman’s lead peaked at a dozen points at 66-54 when Blake Cranor made two free throws with 6:49 remaining, but an athletic stickback by Blackwood, West’s undersized but not undermuscled power forward, trigged the Falcons’ last surge.
“They just kept coming and coming,” Jolly said. “That they kept playing as hard as they did is a testament to their team and coaches.”
Who knows? If West hadn’t lost Martin to fouls, it might’ve had enough firepower to pull off the upset. Instead, the Falcons came up just short.
“We played hard against a very good team, and we can be proud of that,” Gurley said. “We know what we’re doing and we are getting better at it. We’re just six games in to this thing and we’ll keep working.”
Probably it was West’s best-played game of the season, although Tucker wasn’t willing to praise it.
“It’s all about winning for me,” he said quietly. “Yes, it might have been our best game, but I’m not going to say we played well. Not when we didn’t get the win.”
LAKE NORMAN (78) — Pritchett 18, Warren 12, Scoles 11, Seacat 10, Dezervos 10, Lee 9, Farley 5, Cranor 4, White 1, Scott.
WEST ROWAN(73) — Tucker 20, Martin 12, Blackwood 10, Long 9, Hassard 8, Reddick 6, Avery 4, Gabriel 2, Morrison 2, Phillips, Davidson, Gallagher. Wilson.
Lake Norman 17 25 21 15 — 78
West Rowan 20 13 21 19 — 73