Prep Basketball: Forty seasons ago, South put up 108

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 25, 2016

By Mike London

LANDIS — Decades have rolled by, but 57-year-old James Allen still has a place in the basketball record book of the Mars Hill Lions.
Most assists in a season? James Allen, 204 in 1978-79.
Most assists in a game? James Allen, 17 vs. Barber-Scotia, Feb. 26, 1979.
Allen could find open teammates, but he also could score.
Forty years ago, the 1975-76 basketball season, Allen was the point guard for a South Rowan team that set a program record for wins — 24 — that still stands. South has fielded other strong clubs — 19-4 in 1966, 20-6 in 1980, 20-7 in 1996, but the 1975-76 squad would get some votes as the best.
“One of the best in the county,” Allen said. “I’ve seen most of the South teams over the years. No way any South team was better.”
Four of the starters on that team — Allen, Jeff Long, Robert “Pop” Brawley and Darnell Reid — were in the same class and grew up together in the same neighborhood. That was the Rose Hill community between Landis and Kannapolis.
“Rose Hill was a gold mine for athletes in those days,” Allen said. “The four of us and Doug Moseley (the sixth man on the 1975-76 team) played together at Corriher-Lipe Middle School. We were good athletes, and we understood the game. We knew if we stayed together in high school, we’d be good.”
The groundwork for the banner 1975-76 season was laid by South’s 17-7 team in 1974-75. As juniors, Allen, Long and Brawley were starters and double-figure scorers, while Reid was a key reserve.
Terry Jones was South’s coach. An East Rowan and Appalachian State graduate, Jones had been hired by South as a 24-year-old head coach prior to the 1969-70 season. He’d weathered three straight rough seasons in the South Piedmont Conference from 1971-73.
But the Raiders moved over to the North Piedmont Conference for the 1973-74 school year, and that’s when things started looking up.
By the 1975-76 season, Allen, Long, Brawley and Reid were seniors, and they’d been joined by Mike Propst, a sharpshooting junior from China Grove. It wasn’t a tall lineup — the husky Brawley was the only true inside player among the starters — but there was plenty of speed.
When South played at North Davidson, one of its rivals in the NPC, a colorful Lexington Dispatch sportswriter wrote that South “moved with the quickness of a roadrunner cartoon” and wore “jet-propelled tennis shoes.”
“We were good at transition basketball and we had players with different skills,” Allen said. “Long and Propst could really shoot the ball. Brawley was a great rebounder, and he’d get 20 some nights. Reid was blue collar. He did the dirty work. He hustled and he played great defense.”
And Allen?
“I was quick on defense and my job on offense was to get everyone else involved,” Allen said.
South won its first seven games before losing in overtime to East Rowan in the Christmas tournament championship game at Catawba.
“It was a hard loss in a game we should’ve won, but it was also the turning point for our season,” Allen said. “We made up our minds after that to take care of games early. If we got a team down at halftime, we kept them down. We didn’t want to be in a position where a call could beat us.”
But South lost again in early January. That second loss came in overtime to North Davidson, so both of South’s regular-season losses were in OT.
After that North Davidson disappointment, South went on a tear, breaking the school record for consecutive victories with 14 in a row. The 1966 team, led by Denny Hogan, Ben Basinger, Darryl Gibson, David Teague and Jerry Overcash, had won 13 in a row.
“Everyone was playing well and the guys coming off the bench (usually Moseley, Tim Corriher and Nathan Gibson) were helping us out,” Allen said.
While Allen was a pass-first point guard, he also averaged 17.6 points, mostly on drives and transition layups. He finished a lot of fast-breaks generated by crisp outlet passes by Brawley.
Allen scored 26 when South flattened East, 91-66, in their first meeting after the Christmas tournament. He scored 27 against Davie and 28 in the Raiders’ first meeting with South Iredell.
It was in the second meeting with South Iredell, a regular-season finale played on a Monday, in which the 1975-76 team carved out a lasting place in county history.
South put up 80 shots and made 48 for a 60-percent shooting night. South made only a dozen free throws, but it still rolled by an unheard of score of 108-86.
South had 52 at halftime and 80 after three quarters. Long made the jumper that shattered the century mark with two minutes left
“And South Iredell had a good team,” Allen said. “They had Jack Campbell. I was runner-up to him for player of the year in the conference.”
Allen scored 35 (breaking the school record at the time) and added eight assists. Long scored 26. Propst (14), Brawley (12) and Reid (10) were in double figures. The starters accounted for 97 points.
At least some of the jumpers drilled by Propst and Long, the younger brother of Vernon Long, who starred for A.L. Brown in the late 1960s, would’ve been 3-pointers in today’s game.
“That 108 was in a regulation game and without the 3-point shot,” Allen said. “That game speaks for itself when it comes to the kind of team we had. I don’t think any team in the county scored like that without 3-pointers.”
He’s right about that. West Rowan pummeled Concord 112-65 in 2001 and North Rowan devastated South Davidson 116-44 in a 1A romp in 2013, but South’s 108 will always be the scoring standard for the pre-3-point field goal era.
It’s also still the school record, although the Raiders made a good run at it in 2009 when a squad led by Hunter Morrison, Reid Shaver and Steven Johnson beat Statesville, 107-105, in overtime.
Unfortunately, that 108-point night proved to be the pinnacle for the 1975-76 Raiders. They lost in the championship game of the NPC tournament to North Stanly. Then their season ended at 24-4 with a loss to Asheboro in the second round of the Western North Carolina High School Activities Association playoffs.
“It’s always tough to lose when you come that far,” Allen said. “But we made some history.”
Allen, South’s all-time scoring leader when he graduated, was voted the county player of the year, and Brawley joined him on the all-county first team. Propst and Reid were second team. Long was honorable mention.
As good as South’s team was, there were fewer college opportunities in those days.
Allen got a chance to play at Mars Hill for coach Jack Lytton. His fondest memory is coming off the bench late in a game his freshman year and immediately making the driving layup that beat UNC Asheville. It was his only two points of the night.
Coach Jones’ last season as South’s coach was 1977-78. He died in 1996 when he was only 50.
Allen’s teammates found good jobs, stayed with them, and prospered in the work force.
Allen loves basketball and has coached a long time. He aided Shelwyn Klutz at A.L. Brown for 18 seasons. Prior to this season, Allen came back to South Rowan to assist new coach Andre McCain.
It was a tough season in a tough league — 0-24 — but Allen helped McCain hang in there.
“We were 5-22 at Mars Hill my freshman year,” Allen said. “So I know something about long seasons.”
Allen still plays half-court basketball, and he insists that he’s still got it.
“I’ve never had any problems with my knees — knock on wood — and I still shoot it as well as I ever did,” Allen said. “There are days when I can out-smart the young guys.”