Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 2, 2013
MOUNT ULLA — West Rowan’s boys are back on the winning track, but getting there wasn’t easy.
The host Falcons rallied in the final four minutes and held off stubborn East Rowan for a 71-65 NPC victory Friday night.
“We knew it was going to be tough,” West junior Najee Tucker said after an exhausting performance. “When East Rowan plays West Rowan everybody plays hard.”
There were heroes, villians and a nightful of Kodak moments. West sophomore Celuxus Long had 23 points and knocked down a couple of 3-pointers, but it was a fourth-quarter dribble drive proved most worthy. Tucker had 15, mostly on muscle moves in the paint. And teammate Chris Hassard — an offensive lineman in Nikes — finished with 10 points after converting a pair of open layups after East had trimmed a 14-point deficit to 56-54 midway through the fourth quarter.
“We did pretty good for a bunch of vagabonds,” winning coach Mike Gurley said after West (8-11, 6-2) earned its sixth win in seven games. “Our focus and execution was there when it had to be.”
East (5-14, 2-7) suffered its eighth loss in nine games — and second to West this season — but didn’t go quietly. Junior Donte Means was on fire, converting half of the Mustangs’ eight 3-pointers and pacing all scorers with 24 points.
“When Donte goes, we go,” said ER coach Trey Ledbetter. “And Donte went tonight. What a great second half.”
Means scored 16 points after West had taken a 39-28 halftime lead. There were back-to-back shots — first a fastbreak banker from the left side and seconds later a well-placed floater — that drew East within 49-44 late in the third period.
“You know how it is,” the humble Means said. “Once you get close enough you want to take off and do anything you can.”
West returned fire when Hassard sank two free throws and Long buried a 3-ball from the right corner, providing a 10-point lead entering the final quarter.
“In the first half we were moving the ball around, playing as a team and getting good shots,” Long said. “But in the second half we let them back in the game. We really had to fight them off.”
The fight intensified when the Mustangs opened the fourth quarter with a 10-2 scoring spurt. Connor Honeycutt’s layup triggered the rally and two nearly identical long balls by Means from the left side cut the gap to 56-52. There was 3:57 remaining Sam Wyrick received an inbounds pass from under the East basket and kissed a layup off the glass, making it a two-point game.
“We can play with anybody when we want to,” Ledbetter said. “We showed that (Thursday) night against Statesville and we showed it again tonight. West Rowan grew up a little earlier in the season than we did. We’re just now getting to where we need to be.”
Same goes for the Falcons, who regained momentum when Long penetrated down the lane for a layup, then secured the victory by converting nine straight free thows in the last 1:46.
“We had a lot of energy in the first half,” said Tucker. “If we would have come out with that same energy in the second half, it wouldn’t have been so close. But give East credit for that.”
The loss put East in an unfavorable spot — third-and-long with three league games to play. “We’ve got to win out,” Ledbetter said. “It won’t be easy to make the (state) playoffs.”
West, meanwhile, remains in the chase for the NPC title. “We’re still a work in progress,” Gurley insisted. “So nothing surprises me.”
EAST ROWAN (65) — Means 24, L’hommedieu 10, Honeycutt 8, Edwards 6, Corpening 5, Sa.Wyrick 4, Gobble 3, Se.Wyrick 3, Bell 2.
WEST ROWAN (71) — Long 23, Tucker 15, Reddick 10, Hassard 10, Martin 8, Parks 5, Gabriel, Morrison, Gallagher, Phillips.
E. Rowan 10 18 16 21 — 65
W. Rowan 19 20 15 17 — 71