North Rowan-Salisbury game ended by bench-clearing uproar
By David Shaw
SALISBURY — The bad blood between Salisbury and North Rowan escalated into a heated melee Friday night — and may have cost the boys basketball teams from both schools a chance to participate in next week’s Central Carolina Conference tournament and the upcoming 2A state playoffs.
Game officials were to submit a report to the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, which will determine each team’s fate. North led, 62-36, at the end of the third quarter when the bench-clearing ruckus — which involved players and spectators from a standing room only crowd — broke out.
“It’s truly sad,” said North coach Andrew Mitchell, whose team was credited with a victory and completed an unblemished conference season. “My guys know they’re not supposed to come off the bench. The rule is the rule, but there needed to be some kind of containment of the fans.”
The incident began shortly after North senior Jalen Sanders misfired on a shot from inside the lane as the third period concluded. As the teams headed to their respective benches, Salisbury sophomore Shaleek Williams got nose-to-nose with Sanders, who scored a game-high 23 points. Words may or may not have been exchanged before Williams struck Sanders in the face with the back of his right hand.
While Sanders was restrained by teammates, both benches empties and agitated fans spilled onto the court. Salisbury Police officers and school officials needed about five minutes to restore order and Salisbury principal Luke Brown ordered the game stopped. Afterward, Sanders was asked by police if he wanted to press charges against Williams, but he declined.
Penalties assessed by the game officials were severe. Williams was given a technical foul and ejected. Then every player who left his bench was ejected, leaving North with five eligible players and Salisbury with four.
Now comes the hard part — waiting for the state’s decision. In the past, infractions involving bench-clearing incidents carried a two-game suspension.
“All the officials can do is write it up,” said Mitchell, who alleged that Sanders was also punched in the throat by Williams. “They can’t make the decision. We’re putting it in someone else’s hands. But everyone who came off the bench is looking at a possible two-game suspension.”
Salisbury coach Bryan Withers was equally dismayed. “Quite a few players were ejected,” he said. “Once you step off the bench and onto the court, that’s it. That’s high school (rules).”
As far as playing in the conference tournament, Withers remained uncertain. “All I know right now is that I don’t know,” he said.
The game itself was fairly one-sided. North (20-2, 10-0 CCC) scored the first 17 points of the second quarter to take a 37-16 lead, a spurt that included 3-pointers by Xavier Haley and Henderson Lentz. Later a 9-0 spree gave the Cavaliers a 57-28 edge midway through the third period.
“We were playing a good game,” said Mitchell. “We were going to get some of our younger guys in the game and get them some experience. Then all of this broke out.”
Now instead of celebrating a 13-game winning streak and an unblemished conference season, North must play a waiting game. Same goes for Salisbury (18-5, 7-3), which finished second in the league.
NORTH ROWAN (62) — Sanders 23, Scott 12, Lentz 8, Haley 7, Handy 6, Sirleaf 6, Stoner, Harrison, Shields.
SALISBURY (36) — Alexander 15, Oats 6, Baker 4, Leckonby 3, Harris 2, Moss 2, A.Yang 2, Fazia 2, Davis, Kennedy, J.Yang, Robinson, Rivens.
North Rowan 20 18 24 — 62
Salisbury 16 6 14 — 36
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