SALISBURY — The game wasn’t down-to-the-wire, but North Rowan boys coach Andrew Mitchell brimmed with emotion after his team beat Carson 70-50 for the Sam Moir Christmas Classic championship.
“The man who gave me a chance to play college basketball (at Catawba) was Sam Moir, he paid for my education, and that’s the reason why I’m a basketball coach now,” Mitchell said. “So this tournament will always be special to me, and I’m blessed and I’m thankful any time we can win it.”
Mitchell was tournament MVP as a North player in 1983, coached the Salisbury girls to Moir titles in 2008-09, and became a Moir champion for the second time as the pilot of the North boys on Saturday night.
Mitchell has some horses. MVP Michael Bowman scored 19 points and all-tournament picks Michael Connor (17) and Jalen Sanders (11) also were in double figures.
Kenyon Tatum’s eight-point, eight-rebound effort also was key. Tatum’s jack-hammer slam for a 17-12 lead when he followed up a miss might have been the biggest bucket. It was nip-and-tuck when Tatum dunked. He got the top-seeded Cavaliers rolling, and they sprinted to a 37-23 halftime lead.
“A lot of energy came from that stick-back dunk,” Mitchell said. “Tatum didn’t get any special recognition tonight, but he really played hard, and so did Josh Handy and Alexis Archie.”
Carson coach Brian Perry had not faced the Cavaliers since the teams played the third-place game in the 2010 Moir, but he had the same scouting report on North (5-1) that every coach has.
“We wanted to make North shoot jumpers against our zone,” Perry said. “But they knocked the shots down, even some shots we wanted them to take. And if they missed, they went and got the stickback. They killed us on the boards in the first half.”
North’s rebounding advantage at halftime was 19-8, including 8-2 on the offensive glass. Tatum and Bowman had 11 of those boards.
Third-seeded Carson (8-4) also has good players, including seniors Tre Williams and Colton Laws. Both are closing in on 1,000 points. Neither had scored against North before Saturday.
Laws had 14 points and eight rebounds, while Williams had 11 points and five rebounds. Both were easy all-tournament picks.
“Carson is a great transition team, and the key to their transition is Williams,” Mitchell said. “As soon as he gets the ball, he’s looking up the court for Laws for an easy one. We wanted to make sure we always had someone right in front of Williams to stop him from making that pass.”
Williams had only one assist, probably a career low.
Carson shot 34.4 percent from the floor and was only 2-for-14 on 3s, with Jacob Raper accounting for both long-range makes. North shot a warm 52 percent, including Bowman’s 8-for-11 on a mix of power moves and jumpers.
“We’ve been tense and tight on our outside shots, wondering whether to shoot or not,” Mitchell said. “We told them to have fun, to relax and to let the shots fly.”
Carson’s defense still held the Cavaliers to eight points in the third quarter.
Williams made his first field goal of the game with 3:15 left in the third and when he finished that quarter with a driving runner, the Cougars had North’s lead down to single digits at 45-36 and their fans still had hope.
“We had talked at halftime that Carson was a good team and they had one run left,” Mitchell said. “But we were very fortunate to get that No. 1 seed and that meant we were playing our second night and Carson was playing for the third straight. We kept things at a frantic pace, thinking they would wear down before we did.”
Carson kept coming at the start of the fourth quarter, but North had the answers — a Connor jumper, a Bowman drive, a Sanders scoop — and then Carson was spent, and North pulled away to its eighth Moir title.
“We weren’t in bad position when the fourth quarter started, but then we stopped talking and getting back on defense,” Williams said. “It was just little things, but when you’re playing a team as good as North, the little things turn into big things.”
NOTES: The winner of the “Ronz Award,” given in memory of Ronnie Gallagher, was Carson charge-taker MyQuon Stout. “No one’s more deserving,” Perry said. “This award is for hustle and sportsmanship and no one does those things better.”
CARSON (50) — Laws 14, Williams 11, Raper 8, McCain 7, Stout 6, Rucker 2, Herron 2, Hogue, Westbrook, Hower, Whicker, Collins.
NORTH (70) — Bowman 19, Connor 17, Sanders 11, Handy 9, Tatum 8, Bates 2, Hillie 2, Nelson 2, Archie, Walker, Billingley, Mungin, Scott .
Carson 12 11 13 14 — 50
North 15 22 8 25 — 70
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