BISCOE — The margins of victory may say otherwise but not everything has come easy for North Rowan this year.
Case in point was the league tournament title game.
After an hour-and-a-half bus ride, the Cavs were sloppy in their final conference game of the year, but they left the rest of the league something to remember them by.
Another Yadkin Valley Conference championship.
A 21-0 run in the second half helped North Rowan win its third consecutive YVC tournament Friday’s 73-41 win against Albemarle at East Montgomery.
Oshon West and North coach Andrew Mitchell were hit with technical fouls that resulted in six straight free throws for the Bulldogs in the first quarter. Twenty-five fouls were called in the first half as the Cavs’ third win against Albemarle was the toughest.
“I knew that we would struggle because I had a feeling they would be allowed to play a little football,” Mitchell said. “But the guys kept their composure and continued to play.”
Freshman guard Jalen Sanders scored 18 points for the second-straight game and ran the show at point guard early on with starters in foul trouble. West was called for his second foul after contesting a shot from Andre Ridenhour. He was hit with a technical seconds later for his third.
Mitchell was whistled during Ridenhour’s free throws. Foul issues caused North’s reserves to come in earlier than usual and hold their own.
“I knew my teammates were going to get in the game and take over,” West said. “They played big minutes tonight. We’ll need that in the playoffs.”
Wednesday in the semifinal, West scored 15 straight to start the second half. Against Albemarle, Michael Connor’s putback at the third-quarter horn made it 50-35 to begin the spurt. Sanders hit consecutive and-ones and T.J. Bates drained a trey to cap it at 69-35 as North hit seven consecutive shots from the field.
“We kept our composure,” Sanders said afterward. “Coach said we can’t let them get in our head.”
West and Connor scored 14 points each. No. 1 center Malik Ford didn’t start, but returned from a lingering injury after several games off.
“We really started playing defense in the second half,” Mitchell said. “Our hands were active and we were in the passing lanes.”
Albemarle suffered through 25 turnovers for the night but trailed 12-8 after a quarter despite hitting just two field goals. Alvin Currie hit a jumper before the end of the quarter to give the Bulldogs a needed boost.
Sanders finished a three-point play and finished a layup after a Michael Bowman steal that made it 24-10. It was 26-15 going into the half.
“He loves the game of basketball and he’s fearless,” Mitchell said of Sanders. “You put that together and you get games like he’s been having lately.”
Bowman hit a jumper and West made his return by converting a running layup to make it 32-20. Albemarle’s Terrace Ellis was fouled shooting a three and hit all his free throws to pull the Bulldogs within 35-25. Sanders hit a layup and Alexis Archie scored seven straight points by draining a three, a putback and a layup to stretch the lead back out and force Albemarle to call timeout.
It was sweet when the Cavs reached their 16th straight win Friday, but it’ll be decadent if it reaches 22.
“We’ve got to get six more,” West said. “We’re focused on the playoffs now.”
The Bulldogs, a top-10 team for much of the year, have three losses, all coming from North. Deon Christian scored 11 points to lead Albemarle. Bates (nine points) and Archie (seven points) had solid games.
ALBEMARLE (41) —Christian 11, Ellis 5, Ridenhour 5, Autry 5, Crowder 3, Dumas 3, Blanton 2, Currie 2, Williams 2, Baldwin 2, Brown 2, Niven 1,
NORTH ROWAN (73) — Sanders 18, West 14, Connor 14, Bates 9, Archie 7, Bowman 3, Walker 3, B. Nelson 3, D. Nelson 2, Ellis, Tate, Handy, Billingsly, Ford.
N. Rowan 8 7 20 6 — 41
S. Davidson 12 14 24 23 — 73