Published 12:00 am Friday, March 1, 2013

SPENCER — Oshon West ripped down his 10th rebound on a miss by Monroe with 2.5 seconds left, and his eyes were already looking up the floor at a sprinting Michael Connor, who looked like he was running the anchor leg on a 4×100 relay.
West fired a perfect 60-foot pass, and Connor’s layup barely beat the buzzer. It also beat Monroe 53-51 in a memorable 1A sectional final.
“I saw Connor, and I knew it was down,” said North hero Michael Bowman. “I knew this one was over.”
The only time North (27-3) led was on Connor’s decisive bucket.
Anyone who abandoned ship at halftime of what appeared to be a season-ending North trainwreck will be startled to hear that the Cavaliers wiped out a 17-point deficit and are headed to next week’s Western Regional. They’ll play Friday.
Monroe (23-5), which ended North’s 2012 season, was great in the first half, and the Cavs were awful.
“Our big guy (6-foot-3 Duke football signee Quashaun Chambers) got in foul trouble, but we were making shots, so it didn’t hurt us that much in the first half,” Monroe coach Johnny Sowell said. “It did later.”
Monroe peaked — and North bottomed out — when the visitors led 28-11 in the second quarter. At that point, a packed gym was silent.
“I think we just wanted this game too much,” Bowman said. “Everyone was jittery, trying to do too much.”
North shot 2-for-14 in the first quarter — both makes were layups by West. In the second quarter the Cavs turned it over eight times, and the Redhawks calmly converted layups off many ill-advised passes.
Monroe, which got two first-half 3s from Brandon Roddy, took a 32-18 lead and confidence to the break.
“We were frustrated at halftime,” North senior T.J. Bates said. “We knew we had to turn it up on defense. They asked me who I wanted, and I asked for 23 (Roddy).”
Roddy would score only one field goal in the second half.
“As poorly as we played in the first half, we knew we could come back because we rallied from 14 down at halftime at Monroe two years ago,” North coach Andrew Mitchell said. “But in order to come back, we had to toughen up. We had to be just as tough as Monroe and go body to body with them.”
North came out of the locker room energized. West drove for two, Bates drew an offensive foul, and Bowman powered in a bucket in the paint.
North was still down 11 when Malik Ford tipped in a missed layup, and then Bates changed the game by drilling back-to-back 3s that cut Monroe’s edge to 35-32 midway through the third quarter.
Bates is a floorleader, ballhandler and defender more than he is a shooter, but his spree saved the Cavaliers.
“Big-time players have to make plays in big games,” Bates said with a smile.
Bates’ second 3 sent the crowd into a frenzy, but Monroe didn’t fold. The Redhawks only made one field goal in the third quarter, but they made enough free throws to lead 39-34 heading to the final eight minutes.
North fans were chanting ‘De-fense!” and Monroe’s foul troubles mounted. Chambers and Gary Parker were both saddled with four personals with seven minutes still to play.
North would shoot just 32 percent for the game, but in that final quarter, Bowman and West owned the paint.
That duo volleyballed up six shots on one pivotal possession before Bowman finally scored.
“They were warriors on the glass,” Mitchell said. “I knew we had guys with some guts and guys with fight in them, and tonight they proved it.”
North finally caught up when Bowman scored on a post move to make it 48-all with 52 seconds left. But Chambers struck back quickly with a three-point play that put the Redhawks back up 51-48.
Then it was Bowman’s turn. He missed a stickback. Then he missed another one. But on his third effort, he made a layup as he was fouled, and it was tied at 51-all with 25 seconds to go.
“I got tough and I grabbed that ball for the third time,” Bowman said. “Then I heard the whistle and made the shot.”
Monroe waited for one shot. Roddy attacked the rim, but he missed a contested layup.
West came out of a pack with the rebound. He spotted Connor, and fans stormed the court.

MONROE (51) —Q. Sanders 13, Roddy 12, White 10, Parker 7, Allen 4, Wynn 3, Taylor 2, Thompson.
NORTH ROWAN (53) — West 19, Bowman 15, Bates 7, Connor 5, Sanders 5, Ford 2, D. Nelson, B. Nelson, Archie.

Monroe 14 18 7 12 — 51

N. Rowan 6 12 16 19 — 53