From staff reports
OLIN – Facing what amounted to a must-win game Friday, North Iredell built a 10-point halftime advantage and held on down the stretch to beat South Rowan 52-50 in a North Piedmont Conference game.
“That’s who we’re battling for fourth place,” Raiders coach Brian Cantrell said. “This was a very key win.”
Despite sustaining a gash on the back of his head in the first quarter, Austin Hartness finished with 14 points and three steals to lead North Iredell.
With the outcome hanging in the balance, Hartness sank each of the four free-throw attempts he was awarded inside the final 35 seconds. The first pair broke a 48-all tie.
South Rowan turned the ball over on the ensuing possession and then fouled Hartness again with 17 seconds left. He made another pair from the line to push the lead to 52-48.
“I feel pretty comfortable shooting free throws no matter the situation,” Hartness said.
Qwan Rhyne’s putback with 5.9 seconds remaining brought South Rowan within a basket.
Forced to foul, South Rowan sent Nick Ruppe to the line. Ruppe was whistled for a lane violation on his first attempt, giving South Rowan one last chance to tie or win.
But Rhyne lost control of the ball along the sideline as he raced up court following the inbounds pass, and South Rowan never got off a shot.
Shawn Spry scored 14 points to lead South Rowan (11-10, 4-5), which entered the night with a tighter grip on the NPC’s four and final playoff spot.
Fifth-place North Iredell (7-11, 3-5) needed the win to stay within striking distance. Only four NPC games remain, and another loss to South Rowan would’ve been costly. South Rowan won the first meeting 67-52.
North Iredell started slow in the previous meeting. Not Friday.
“I thought we came out with a lot of positive energy,” Cantrell said.
North Iredell, which never trailed, opened up a 32-22 halftime lead thanks to a 13-4 run to close the second quarter. It centered around their defensive ball pressure.
Marquel Mullins ignited the spurt, scoring the first basket and then drawing a charge on the other end of the floor. Hartness’ steal and layup made it 25-18, and Bryson Holland scored in transition after Mullins picked off a pass to make it 27-20.
South Rowan was never in its game with North Iredell, falling 68-27.
The Raiders (15-5, 2-7) never scored more than eight points in a quarter and trailed 41-12 at the half. Only four players scored, led by Avery Locklear’s 14 points.
North (11-6, 7-1) kept pace at the top of the NPC standings with Carson and West Davidson.
North Iredell actually had a player outscore South’s entire team. Brittani Cartner poured in 31 for the Raiders.