Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 28, 2013

SALISBURY — It had been 15 days since the last time North Rowan laced it up and hit the hardwood heading into Friday’s Moir Christmas Classic semifinal against South Rowan.
And for more than a half, it showed.
The top-seeded Cavaliers eventually knocked off the rust before they knocked off the Raiders, 59-48, to advance to tonight’s title bout.
“We’ve been off for over two weeks, and we expected to come out and not have much rhythm,” North head coach Andrew Mitchell explained. “But I just like the guts that the guys showed and the intensity that we played with.
“That’s what brought us through – defensive intensity, getting our hands on balls and slowing South down,” he added.
Playing for the first time since a humbling 67-49 defeat against Mooresville on Dec. 12, the Cavs were out of sync in spurts during the first half Friday night.
After laboring for 10 points in the first six minutes of the game, North turned it up to close out the first quarter, ripping off seven of eight points in a flurry to grab a 17-13 advantage.
The Cavaliers then went ice cold, only managing two free throws for the first seven minutes of the second frame.
With 55 seconds left until halftime, Jalen Sanders stole a pass near midcourt and laid it up on a breakaway for the first field goal of the quarter.
Despite the erratic performance, North only trailed 26-25 at the break.
“We had a few team scrimmages and we played against some of our former players during the break, but all of that stuff isn’t the same until you add clocks and real officials,” Mitchell said. “So we knew that we would struggle some. I think that by being off, it gave us a chance to bond and work on some things that really helped us in the game.”
Some of those improvements showed up in the third quarter on both sides of the court.
The Cavs swarmed South in a full-court press, scoring the first eight points of the third to grab a 33-26 lead they would never surrender.
“It was a hard-fought win and it was exactly what we expected,” Mitchell said. “We knew once South got all of their players back, they would be a tough challenge for us.”
“It was a great win for the team,” senior Michael Bowman added. “We were a little rusty in the beginning coming off the break. But we turned it up in the second half and came out with a big win.”
Bowman powered the Cavs with a double-double of 11 points and 12 boards. Michael Connor turned in a team-high 16 points, while Jalen Sanders added 14 points with six steals and three blocks.
Shawn Spry led South’s charge with 16 points, including 3-of-4 shooting from behind the arc. Lavon Hill tacked on 12 points and seven rebounds, while Qwan Rhyne and T’Vadis Graham-Wesley added eight points each.
“They got tough and we have to get tough. Right now, when things get tough, we shy away a little bit,” Raider head coach Bryan Withers said. “That’s what we’re trying to change here. When things get tough, you should want to make a play, but you shouldn’t want to make a play that’s out of the team concept. You have to get to your spots and make plays and make plays for each other. We’re still young and we still go through lapses where we go too much ‘me’ and not enough ‘team.’
“They came out and got tougher and we wilted. We’re going to get better and learn not to do that.”
South will take on West Rowan in tonight’s third-place match-up at the Moir. The Falcons ran away with a 76-53 victory in the teams’ first meeting earlier in the month.
North advances to the championship game against third-seeded Carson tonight. Tip off is set for 8 p.m.
“Take no mercy,” Bowman added. “Play every game to the fullest and play every game hard. Hopefully we can come out with the win.”

SOUTH ROWAN (48) — Spry 16, Hill 12, Rhyne 8, Wesley-Graham 8, Holbrook 4, Goldston, Wilder, Finger.
NORTH ROWAN (59) — Connor 16, Sanders 14, Bowman 11, Tatum 7, Handy 6, Walker 2, Archie 2, Nelson 1, Scott.
N. Rowan 17 8 16 18 — 59
S. Rowan 13 13 6 16 — 48