MOUNT ULLA — Even perfection has its price — but West Rowan wasn’t in a bargaining mood Tuesday night.
The unblemished Falcons shook off a less-than-spectacular first half, maintained their composure and marched past visiting Salisbury 67-56 for its 14th victory.
“I wasn’t sure about this game,” coach Todd McNeely said after West beat the Hornets (7-6 overall) for the third time this season. “We struggled shooting a little bit. And you’re always concerned against Salisbury. They can light it up at any time. Yeah, we were moving the ball well, but we probably missed six or eight layups in the first half.”
Factor in that West was fresh off a harder-than-expected win against East Rowan — in which it shot 3-for-29 in the first half and found itself buried in a 16-point hole — and you can understand McNeely’s apprehension.
Salisbury rode Brielle Blaire’s 14 first-half points and took a 32-25 lead late in the half, leaving West looking a bit dishelved and perhaps ripe for the picking.
“Uh-uh,” Falcons’ guard Nycieko Dixon said. “We handled it well. Sometimes we’re a better team when we play from behind.”
They had to be last night. Led by Shay Steele’s game-high 32 points, West stormed back in the pivotal third quarter and took command.
“We did our jobs,” SHS coach Tony Hillian said. “I think it came down to unforced turnovers. We had 12 to 14 where we just threw the ball away.”
It was still anybody’s game early in the third quarter. West took its first lead since the opening minutes when Steele slashed her way for a three-point play, just seconds after she’d loped down the court on a fastbreak layup. A layup by Salisbury’s Nyasia Harris (18 points) kept the Hornets within 39-36 but again Steele answered, this time producing consecutive three-point plays to give West 45-36 edge with 3:11 remaining in the quarter.
“Nobody can stop her,” Dixon said after tossing in 20 points. “She just attacks the rim hard. Everybody knows she has a left hand, but until they show they can stop it, she’ll continue to isolate and go hard.”
A hush fell over the crowd when Blairesuffered a left leg cramp with 2:22 remaining in the third period. She missed less than four minutes, but West used the opportunity to solidify its lead.
“You’ve got to take advantage of what’s given to you,” McNeely said. “And we did.”
Steele agreed. “With (Blaire) you’ve got to be ready for anything at anytime.”
By game’s end Hillian was left with more questions than answers. “To beat West,” he said, “you’ve got to dot all the I’s and cross all the T’s. And that may not be enough.”
SALISBURY (56) — B.Blaire 21, Harris 18, Connor 6, Lattimore 4, Caldwell 4, Gloster 2, A.Blaire 1,, Riche, Harmon.
WEST ROWAN (67) — Steele 32, Dixon 20, Hall 7, Sobataka 6, S.Miller 2, Q.Miller.
Salisbury 14 18 9 15 — 56
W. Rowan 12 15 24 16 — 67