Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 5, 2013
GRANITE QUARRY — On the outside, Celexus Long is 5-foot-something and weighs 135 pounds, but on the inside, he’s a combination of LeBron James, Tom Cruise and the Mighty Thor.
Confidence is everything, and West Rowan’s confident Long buried a 3-pointer with less than a second left to beat East Rowan 51-50 in front of a full house on Friday.
Long’s confidence got a shot in the arm from his 28-point outing in the recent Sam Moir Classic.
“I did put that shot up there with some confidence,” Long said. “My teammates gave me an opportunity, so I had to have the confidence that I could make it for them.”
Long’s shot from deep in the left corner swished, and it was all over after Donte Means, who carried East with 26 points, fired a desperation 60-foot heave that banged off the backboard.
Long’s ice-water shot decided a heated NPC struggle between two teams still figuring things out. West is 3-10 but has a 2-1 league record. East is 4-9 and 1-2 in the NPC, and while it’s early yet, this is one of those games that could end up deciding playoff berths.
“You always asked yourself if you deserved to win a game or not,” said West coach Mike Gurley, who has won 333 times at the helm of the Falcons. “I think we did because as bad as we played at times, we never stopped playing hard. It was like we were trying to climb up a waterfall on slippery rocks, but we always kept playing.”
East coach Trey Ledbetter knew the elation the Falcons were feeling. East beat West last season in the East gym on a last-second shot by Jordan Shepherd. This time, roles were reversed.
“It really came down to making just one stop and we couldn’t make any stops in the last minute,” Ledbetter said. “If we make a stop, we win, so this one really, really stings.”
The first half was notable only for an amazing number of traveling violations. There were more walks than buckets.
East took a 21-19 lead at the break when Conor Honeycutt fed Josh Gobble for a layup.
“We missed so many pointblank shots,” Ledbetter said. “We should’ve been up eight or nine. It came back to bite us.”
Means is a scoring machine when he’s on, and he was scoring from everywhere.
A fourth-quarter flurry by Means put East ahead, and when Calvin Edwards drew the fifth foul on Najee Tucker and hit two free throws with 3:14 remaining, the Mustangs led 43-36, and the Falcons were without one of their top players.
Daisean Reddick’s 3-pointer with 1:50 remaining, pulled West within 47-45, but the Falcons were in trouble when Means made a free throw, West’s Chris Hassard missed two free throws, and Reddick (14 points) fouled out.
Means put East in front 50-45 with a minute left, but Long’s clutch 3 from the right wing with 48 seconds remaining kept West breathing. Honeycutt had a chance to put East up by four with 20 seconds left, but he missed two free throws.
On West’s final possession, Devin Parks drove and fired up a contested shot in the lane. He missed, but Darius Gabriel won the scramble for the rebound, and then Gabriel heard Long yelling for the ball.
Gabriel shoveled it out to him. The rest is history.
“We were frustrated because we wanted to play better than than we played,” Gurley said. “But we never quit. We kept getting stops, and that’s what gave us a chance.”
WEST ROWAN (51) — Long 15, Reddick 14, Tucker 10, Parks 5, Hassard 4, Morrison 2, Gabriel 1, Blackwood, Gallagher, Phillips, Martin,
EAST ROWAN (50) — Means 26, Sa. Wyrick 8, Honeycutt 8, Edwards 4, L’Hommedieu 2, Gobble 2, Corpening.
W. Rowan 11 8 12 20 — 51
E. Rowan 10 11 9 20 — 50