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GRANITE QUARRY — East Rowan finally got that signature win it’s been seeking and NaQuis Caldwell introduced himself to the rest of the Rowan County basketball world Thursday night.
The Mustangs roared back from a 10-point fourth quarter deficit with a remarkable stretch run and knocked off visiting West Rowan 63-57. There were many reasons why East defeated South Piedmont Conference co-leader West but none was prominent than Caldwell.
The 6-foot-1 sophomore forward and transfer from North Rowan had only scored in four of the team’s eight games prior to Thursday. His previous best effort was seven points. Against the Falcons, Caldwell notched 25 points, including 15 in the decisive final quarter and grabbed 11 rebounds.
“I knew it was coming,” East coach Trey Ledbetter said of his new star. “He has really come around for us and tonight it showed.”
Caldwell was a little more low-key in trying to explain his breakout performance. “I just do what the coach tells me to do and work hard in practice,” he said. “I just went out tonight and tried my best to help my team.”
The Mustangs (3-6, 1-5) had battled West (6-3, 4-1) through most of three quarters but seemed on the ropes when a flurry of Seth Martin three’s had the Falcons ahead 46-36 at the end of the third quarter. And then it happened.
A pair of Caldwell free throws, followed by a three-point play on a drive cut the gap. Then yet another Caldwell three point play tied the score at 46 with 5:48 to play. Senior guard Donte Means made a couple of steals then nailed a long three to put East ahead 49-48.
The lead reached as high as six, 55-49 on a pair of Josh Moses foul shots but the Falcons had one more run left to try and salvage the game. Another three by Martin, who had five for the game, brought West to within one, 55-54, with just 1:25 remaining.
But Means sliced through the lane for a layup then hit two free throws to put East up 59-54 with under a minute left. Caldwell then capped off his stellar effort by hitting three of four free throws in the final 25 seconds to secure the upset win.
When the dust settled in the final quarter, East had outscored West 27-11 led by Caldwell’s 15 and nine more from Means. So how did they do that?
“We played defense,” Ledbetter said,” We finally played defense and we finally rebounded. Everybody on this team stepped up and played like a man tonight.”
Ledbetter obviously had praise for Caldwell and the speedy senior leadership of Means. He also singled out Seth Wyrick for his defense against Falcon sharpshooting guard Martin as well as forward Simon Soles for a pair of tip-ins and key rebounds in the second half.
“I hope this is one of those wins that kind of propels us to bigger and better things,” Ledbetter said.
Despite the late game meltdown, Falcon Coach Mike Gurley was not down on his team. “Give all the credit to East,” he said. “We knew we would have to play a complete game down here and we didn’t. I thought we had some good performances, but we just didn’t finish.”
The setback not only knocked the Falcons out of a tie for the SPC lead with Concord but cost them top seed in next week’s Sam Moir Christmas tournament at Catawba. But Gurley noted his team was 2-8 last year at this time with essentially the same players so his 6-3 mark so far this season is fine with him.
Caldwell’s 25 and 18 more by Means led the Mustangs with Moses chipping in 8. Martin led the Falcons with 17 followed by Celexus Long with 10 and Najee Tucker with nine.
East enjoyed a big advantage at the FT line hitting 17 of 30 while West was just 5 of 14.

WEST ROWAN (57) — Martin 17, Long 10, Tucker 9, Parks 8, Weeks 8, Reddick 3, Joseph 2, Caldwell, Hassard, Phillips.
EAST ROWAN (63) — Caldwell 25, Means 18, Moses 8, Wyse 5, Soles 4, Love 2, Seth Wyrick 1, Sam Wyrick, Corpening, Bell.

West Rowan 19 11 16 11 — 57
East Rowan 15 9 12 27 — 63

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