SALISBURY — West Rowan will spend Thanksgiving sporting a 2-0 record — but getting there wasn’t easy.
First the Falcons had to overcome an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Davie County in the season-opener Monday. Last night they withstood stubborn Salisbury in the closing minutes and escaped with a 68-61 victory.
“It’s good to see how we’d react in a back-to-back,” said West coach Mike Gurley. “Now we’ve got Thanksgiving to recover from it.”
It was almost like taking a mid-term during the first week of the semester — one that drained both teams while treating a packed gym to a pulsating performance.
“I thought it was a great basketball game,” SHS coach Jason Causby said after the host Hornets fell to 1-1. “We had to do some things in the last 50 seconds that we don’t like to do, but overall I was pleased with our effort.”
Salisbury converted only 17 of 34 free throws, a stat that may have spelled the difference. And while the taller Hornets grabbed 19 offensive rebounds, it wasn’t enough to offset the speedy Falcons.
“Our first two games were both dogfights,” said tireless West senior Najee Tucker. “We fought it out and played hard until the end.”
Tucker finished with 11 points and eight rebounds and teamed with Daisean Reddick on a fabulous play with 2:06 remaining. West was clinging to a two-point lead when Reddick made a steal near midcourt. He alertly fed a pass to Tucker, who drove the left side, hit a layup and was hacked by Salisbury defender D.J. Alexander.
And although Tucker misfired on the ensuing free throw, teammate Kortez Weeks beat everyone to the rebound and hit a surprise putback, giving West a 62-56 lead with just over two minutes to play.
“That was a big play because we finished it strong,” said Tucker. “I think we’re learning how to win close games.”
Causby called the play a difference-maker. “To me, that was it,” he said. “That sequence right there, you saw their experience, their readiness. But we shouldn’t have turned that ball over to begin with.”
Salisbury’s Nick Brown had a quiet evening, except when it came to praising Tucker.
“They outworked us tonight,” he said. “And Najee outworked our whole team. That play in the end was a turning point of the game. We’ve got to do better than that. Our whole team has to work harder.”
Salisbury received a game-high 19 points from Alexander, who sank four consecutive free throws to put the hosts ahead 28-25 late in the first half. It used an effective strategy — long outlet passes that forced West to back-pedal for much of the night. Then in the waning moments of the third period DeShawn Troutman hit a fastbreak layup and a pull-up jumper back-to-back, followed by Corban Usry’s drive down the lane that produced a 46-43 SHS lead.
“You know what we’re gonna be working on the next two practices,” Gurley warned. “Getting back on defense.”
Senior big man Chris Hassard had seven rebounds for West — including five offensive. He also scored the Falcons’ first six points of the fourth quarter, though WR couldn’t shake the Hornets. Not until Tucker’s explosion were they able to distance themselves.
“In practice we work on bodying out big men,” West’s Celexus Long said sparking a late 6-0 run that gave West a nine-point advantage. “Najee himself works on it all the time. He’s tough. When you play hard as a team you win games like this.”
WEST ROWAN (68) — Reddick 12, Long 11, Tucker 11, Hassard 8, Parks 8, Martin 6, Valle 4, Joseph 4, Weeks 4, Phillips, Wood.
SALISBURY (61) — D.Alexander 19, Troutman 13, Canipe 8, Fazia 5, Brown 4, Usry 4, Wilson 3, Rayner 3, Petty 2, Oats, Davis.
W.Rowan 18 14 15 21 — 68
Salisbury 17 14 15 15 — 61
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