HARRISBURG — It must be Tool Time at West Rowan.
At least that’s how coach Mike Gurley made it sound Friday night after the Falcons dropped a 63-52 SPC decision at Hickory Ridge.
“I like to watch the NBA games and listen to Hubie (Brown),” Gurley said after the Falcons (8-7, 4-4) suffered their fourth loss in five games. “He always says guys have to take the game and tighten it up. That means you take the Phillips head and you tighten your screws. That’s what we need to do. We need to tighten our screws as a basketball team.”
The wheels never spun off against HR (5-9. 3-5), but West spent most of the evening playing catch-up — and never did. The Falcons were limited to six field goals and just 18 points in the first half, then surrendered 26 points in the now-or-never fourth quarter.
“We should have played better,” junior Celexus Long mustered after pouring in a season-high 26 points. “We’re a better team than this.”
West is a hard team to read right now. Halfway through its league season it deserves the Heart Trophy because of its tireless effort and the Alex Trebek Award because it keeps you guessing.
“We’ve got some basketball fundamentals that we’ve got to improve on,” Gurley explained. “We know it. The guys know it. I know it. We’re gonna go to work and get better.”
The Falcons took an early 8-2 lead but trailed 14-10 after one period. They inched as close as 20-17 when Chris Hassard converted the second of two free throws with 3:28 left in the half. Half-a-minute later it was 22-18 after Najee Tucker hit a foul shot.
“We were right there,” said teammate Seth Martin. “But they had a good man-to-man and we had trouble beating it. When we did get open shots they wouldn’t fall.”
Instead the Ragin’ Bulls got a late 3-pointer from Nick Hough and a close-range bank shot from Javon Smith and jogged to their dressing room with a nine-point halftime lead.
“We were able to take advantage of some of our size,” said winning coach Robert Machado. “We wanted to be aggressive as much as we could.”
Gurley felt the last two minutes of the half were pivotal.
“It was 22-18 and we went down and missed a layup,” he recalled. “That was big because when you’re struggling to shoot the ball like we are, every miss is big. When you get a layup you need to make it.”
Against that backdrop the Falcons emerged from halftime and played a solid third quarter. Long’s 3-ball from the top of the wheel trimmed the deficit to six points and Martin’s long-distance connection from the right side pulled West within 29-25. Daisean Reddick added a layup, Long drained another three and junior Jay Wood came off the bench and buried a 3-pointer from the left side.
Meanwhile, Hickory Ridge made only two baskets in the period, But when the smoke cleared West was still down 37-33 entering the fourth quarter.
“We played great defense and got the shots we wanted (in the third quarter),” Long said. “And that time they were falling.”
The hosts turned the final stanza into a highlight reel. West never drew closer than five points, but that rally was squelched when Bobby Babson stole a rebound from West’s Greg Joseph and sank a layup with 2:44 to play.
“The past couple games the fourth quarter has killed us,” Martin said. “We let them take control.”
Gurley expects things to improve when the Falcons open the second half of their SPC season on Jan. 21.
“We’re a better team than we were last year,” he said. “And we might be better than we were a month ago. What we’re dealing with now is the South Piedmont Conference and we’re just gonna have to fight our way out of it.”
WEST ROWAN (52) — Long 26, Martin 10, Reddick 4, Tucker 3, Wood 3, Hassard 2, Joseph 2, Weeks 2, Caldwell, Phillips, Valle.
HICKORY RIDGE (63) — Av.Metcalf 16, Hough 13, Stowe 11, Babson 10, An.Metcalf 5, Tibbs 4, Smith 2, Salmon 2.
W. Rowan 10 8 15 19 — 52
Hky. Ridge 14 13 10 26 — 63
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