Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 28, 2013
SALISBURY — The end of the argument — if there really ever was one — came swiftly in the second quarter Saturday night.
That’s when North Rowan played with a wounded-animal ferocity, with the confidence and swagger of a kid who got exactly what he wanted for Christmas.
Never mind that the Cavs arrived at Goodman Gym with concerns from one end of their bench to the other. Besides playing like a rec league team in a mid-December loss to Mooresville, they hadn’t exactly lit it up in Friday’s semifinal win against South Rowan.
“We were concerned, period,” coach Andrew Mitchell emphasized. “But mainly we didn’t want them to come out and play with more emotion and energy that we did. We had to beat them at that.”
North began pummelling away in the second period, when it held a 10-3 rebounding edge and opened a 14-point halftime lead. By game’s end the Cavs stood over runnerup Carson like Cassius Clay hovering over a fallen Sonny Liston.
“Now we get bragging rights,” sophomore guard Jalen Sanders crowed after North won its eighth Sam Moir Classic championship in imperialistic fashion. “Everybody thought after we got beat by Mooresville like that, we were gonna roll over against Carson. That wasn’t happening.”
Of course, as teenagers are wont to do, there was an abundance of trash-talk and unfriendly chatter circulating online. It’s an easy distraction, especially for a team that seems to reside on an emotional fault line.
“It just motivated me,” senior Michael Bowman said after collecting 19 points, seven rebounds and the tourney MVP award. “All this talk in the county can stop now. Everybody knows we’re the best team.”
Carson coach Brian Perry isn’t so sure. “I’ll never say another team is better than us,” he indicated after the Cougars had their chestnuts roasted. “But they were better tonight.”
Bowman, a 6-foot-4 widebody who scored 30 points in two tournament games, is a 72-point banner headline waiting to happen. Mitchell inferred that he’s a bull-in-a-china-shop who hasn’t been breaking many plates.
“He’s got one of the biggest bodies in the state, so why doesn’t he use it more?” Mitchell wondered. “Tonight he decided to bang and just abuse himself. He’s got size and body control and he can finish. But sometimes he thinks he’s surrounded by defenders, so we showed him on film how open he was. Most of the time there’s no one around him.”
It was teammate Kenyon Tatum — a member of the Davie County squad that prevented North from repeating as tournament champs last year, who made a pivotal play early in the second quarter. His putback rim-rattling jam gave the Cavs a 17-12 lead and turned the swollen crowd into a human trampoline.
“That changed everything,” said North’s Michael Connor. “It’s the Christmas tournament, the big crowd and that play got us back to where we used to be.”
Bowman agreed. “That dunk electrified the crowd,” he said. “And electrified us as well. When we play as one, and things like that happen, we’re probably the best team in all of North Carolina.”
And though Carson trimmed its deficit to 51-42 on a pair of fourth-quarter free throws by Colton Laws, North responded and quickly nourished its lead to double digits. “We felt good about that at the time,” Perry said. “But we never could catch them. They deserve the championship.”
They do — mostly because they took hold of this game, squeezed it tightly and never let go.
“Hey, when you smell blood you’ve got to keep attacking,” Sanders concluded. “Tonight we smelled it and didn’t stop. That’s what championship teams do.”