North pulls away

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 5, 2013

MT. ULLA ­— North Rowan sophomore Jalen Sanders looked up at a West Rowan scoreboard that said 44-all with four minutes left, glanced over at a mostly hostile crowd and made a decision.
“What I remember is we needed to make a play,” Sanders said.
Sanders decided to make it. He drove, banked in an acrobatic shot as defender Najee Tucker tumbled beneath him — and got the call.
Tucker wanted a charge, but Sanders got the pivotal and-one that went a long way toward settling North’s 58-47 victory over the Falcons on Wednesday.
“Jalen is a sophomore, but that’s a sophomore with the heart of a lion and icewater in his veins,” North coach Andrew Mitchell said. “He was the guy when things were tough that was always looking me right in the eye.”
Sanders’ three-point play triggered an 11-0 run by the Cavaliers (2-0) in a devastating interval of just 85 seconds. Those 85 seconds decided a game that was fiercely contested for 32 minutes.
Sanders nearly lost the handle on North’s next possession, but he recovered just in time and dished to Michael Bowman for a soaring layup and a five-point lead.
Bowman then produced an and-one of his own that stretched North’s lead to eight.
Bowman led the Cavaliers with 17 points, including eight huge ones down the stretch. Michael Connor got eight of his 12 points at the foul line. Sanders finished with 10. Kenyon Tatum only scored two, but they came on a high-flying dunk to close the scoring.
Celexus Long and Devin Parks paced West with 13 points each, and Seth Martin, who didn’t get many clean looks with Connor chasing him, scored 11.
Most expected North to win bigger, but Mitchell was elated to escape.
“Anyone who expects a blowout when we play Salisbury or when we play West is sadly mistaken,” he said. “We expected it to be tough and hard-fought, and that’s exactly what it was. I’d be happy to get out of here with a one-point win. I’d be happy to get out with a half-point win.”
It was physical, and the whistlers stayed busy. Thirteen free throws helped the Cavaliers (2-0) wrestle their way to a 32-23 advantage at halftime, but everyone knew West (2-2) wasn’t done.
“We’ve got a lot of things to work on, but heart and toughness aren’t two of them,” West coach Mike Gurley said. “And heart and toughness can take you a long way.”
When Long closed the scoring in the third quarter with a driving hoop, the Falcons still trailed by eight, but after Connor made a free throw for a 44-36 North lead with 6:26 left to play, the Cavaliers hit a wall.
“We got stop after stop against a very good basketball team, and that gave us a chance,” Gurley said.
Tucker muscled in two points in the lane to get West within six, and then Long buried a wing 3-pointer to cut the Cavs’ lead to 44-41.
After Martin scooped in a layup off a turnover and Daisean Reddick made a free throw it was 44-all.
But that was Sanders’ cue to do what needed doing.
“When you’ve got North across your jersey, there’s a big target on your back,” Sanders said. “We knew West would make a run at us.”
Sanders and Bowman responded brilliantly to that late run on one of those nights on which both teams got tougher and better.
“We had too many turnovers and we missed too many free throws to beat them,” Parks said. “But we played very hard against a good, athletic team. It was great preparation for our conference games.”

NORTH ROWAN (58) — Bowman 17, Connor 12, Sanders 10, Nelson 7, Handy 5, Archie 2, Tatum 2, Coney 2, Walker 1 .
WEST ROWAN (47) — Long 13, Parks 13, Martin 11, Tucker 6, Hassard 3, Reddick 1, Joseph, Weeks.

N. Rowan 15 17 9 17 — 58
W. Rowan 11 12 10 14 — 47