GRANITE QUARRY — File this one under “Missed Opportunities.”
The East Rowan boys basketball team had the luxury of facing SPC favorite Concord on a night when the Spiders’ roster was six players short — but it hardly mattered.
“That first half was the best half we’ve played in a year-and-a-half,” coach Trey Ledbetter said Tuesday night after homestanding East was upended 72-53. “But in the third quarter they didn’t play like they were missing anybody. We’re not bad, but they’re just a really good team. Until somebody knocks them off their pedestal, that’s the team you want to beat.”
Concord (4-1, 2-0) didn’t have the half dozen football players who will compete for a state championship this weekend. Without them,the Spiders seemed downright ordinary in the first half.
“This was their chance to beat us,” said first-year CHS coach George Walker. “We’re still trying to get our chemistry right. And East Rowan was exactly what we thought they’d be — tough and fiesty.”
He’s right. The Mustangs (2-4, 0-3) matched Concord razzle-for-dazzle in the opening quarter and tied the score for the fifth time when junior Austin Wyse drained a 3-ball from the right corner late in the period.
“We played pretty hard on defense and executed on offense,” said teammate Donte Means. “That’s all we needed to do.”
Ledbetter was more specific. “We were overplaying lanes, which was the plan,” he said. “We played a sagging man (defense) and we face-guarded Conner Birchfield, which took him out of the game. Sam Wyrick, who’s been struggling lately, just shut down a Division I player.”
But East — which has typically played stronger second halves this season — couldn’t maintain its staunch, lockdown start. Concord took the lead for keeps when freshman Ty Shon Alexander banked in a 3-pointer from the top of the key, giving the Spiders a 29-26 edge with 2:15 remaining in the opening half.
“He was everything they said he’d be — and then some,” Ledbetter gushed after Alexander scored a game-high 24 points. “I guess that’s why there were five D-I coaches here looking at him.
East trailed by just four points at halftime and remained within 35-31 when Seth Wyrick connected from long range early in the third quarter. “I thought we had a chance of winning if we would have executed better on offense and gotten more stops on defense,” said East senior Josh Moses.
Instead the Mustangs disintegrated like wet cardboard. Birchfield, the 6-foot-4 senior who recently committed to William & Mary, completed a three-point play and seconds later the Spiders launched a 14-0 scoring spurt. When Alexander scored off an inbounds pass under the Concord basket, the guests had an insurmountable 52-33 lead.
“Early in the third quarter we sped the game up,” said Walker. “It got them out of their comfort zone. Layups we were missing in the first half, we were making in the second.”
Means felt East’s collapse had something to do with focus and spark. “All that energy we had in the first half, we lost it,” he said. “We hung in there for a long time. I think it shows we’re good enough to play with anybody. We’re just not showing it right now.”
East outscored Concord in the fourth quarter, but its offense never really uncoiled. “That’s because their defense really took over,” Moses said. “They were trapping and capitalizing on shots we didn’t make.”
Ledbetter called it “a tale of two halves,” and added: “We were extremely focused in the first half. But there was a three-play sequence in the third quarter where we turned it over and they scored a quick basket. Then we spotted up and they scored a three. Then we spotted up again and they got another three. And just like that we were down 12.”
CONCORD (72) — Alexander 24, Birchfield 14, Childress 12, Lynch 6, M.Twigger 6, Spencer 5, Jones 4, B.Twigger 1.
E. ROWAN (53) — Means 15, Wyse 9, Bell 8, Corpening 5, Caldwell 5, Sa.Wyrick 4, Moses 4, Se.Wyrick 3, Love, Hester, Soles.
Concord 17 15 26 14 — 72
E. Rowan 17 11 9 16 — 53
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