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Prep Boys: Salisbury boys can’t close the deal after epic comeback

By Mike London
mike.london@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Salisbury’s boys basketball team stormed back from an 18-point deficit to take a lead on Friday.

But the Hornets played better from behind than from in front and lost to visiting Thomasville, 64-59, in Central Carolina Conference action.

“I think we were fortunate,” Thomasville coach James Atkinson said. “Salisbury is really good, really athletic, but the ball bounced our way at some crucial times.”

It was a devastating home setback for the Hornets (12-6, 5-3 CCC), who would have stayed in the mix for a conference championship with a victory.  Instead, Thomasville (18-3, 8-0) stayed on top of the league, one game ahead of surging North Rowan.

Salisbury started strong. Well, mostly 6-foot-6 senior post player Tre Oats started strong. He had 11 points out of the gate, and the Hornets led 16-8 early.

But Thomasville was keeping the ball out of Oats’ hands by the end of the period and was starting to come back.

“Salisbury forced us into a 2-3 zone because we didn’t have a matchup for Oats,” Atkinson said.

The Hornets were cold trying to shoot over the zone in the second quarter, and it was 28-all at halftime.

Then Thomasville went out and destroyed the Hornets in the third quarter, turning Salisbury turnovers and hasty shots into easy transition buckets. When Thomasville’s star guard Jahare Taylor-Thomas got behind the Hornets’ defense like a wide receiver for a length-of-the-court pass, the Bulldogs owned a 14-0 run and were burying the Hornets, 51-33, late in the third quarter.

At that point, the Hornets had made one 3-pointer in the entire game. But then Will Leckonby made one in the final seconds of the third quarter to stop the Bulldogs’ run,. Salisbury trailed 51-36.

“We’d gotten away from getting the ball to Oats, but I never thought we were out of it,” Salisbury coach Bryan Withers said. “We go through spurts.”

Withers didn’t have much to lose when he went with a four-guard lineup to deal with Thomasville’s zone in the fourth quarter. It was Oats, point guard Trell Baker and shooters Leckonby, Malik Holmes and Bryon Goodlett. The Hornets sacrificed some size and rebounding because they needed points in a hurry.

They got them.

Holmes and Leckonby connected on 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter, and the Hornets were down a dozen. Leckonby swished another deep one, and the lead was down to 10 with the clock ticking under 6 minutes. Then it was Holmes for another bomb. The Hornets trailed by eight, and a once-subdued crowd roared to loud life.

When Goodlett nailed a 3-pointer from the left wing with 4:40 left, the Hornets trailed by five. Then the Hornets’ sixth 3-pointer of the quarter splashed down — Goodlett from the left corner — and Thomasville, which had gone ice-cold on the other end,  led 57-55.

When Baker drove in transition with 2:38 remaining, all heck broke  loose. Taylor-Thomas was called for a personal foul and a technical foul. Baker made two free throws on the personal to tie it. Leckonby made the two technicals for the lead. Salisbury was up 59-57, had scored 13 unanswered and had possession of the ball.

But that possession was the turning point. That would’ve been an ideal time for Baker take charge and to patiently  look for Oats inside. Instead the Hornets fired two 3-point attempts. Leckonby missed. Holmes rebounded that miss,and then Goodlett missed from 3-point range.

“It was a good comeback, and that lineup did a very good job,” Withers said. “But we showed more patience when we were down 18 than we did when it was tight.”

Leckonby’s technical free throws would be the last Salisbury points. They missed some chip  shots and several of their 24 turnovers  came at the worst possible time.

“You’ve got to make all those 5-footers,” Withers said. “We  missed so many easy ones when it counted most.”

With 1:18 remaining, Taylor-Thomas flew into the lane pursuing a teammate’s miss, and stuck in a three-point play that ended a Thomasville  offensive famine. The Bulldogs were back on top, 60-59.

Baker drove, made a wonderful shot while being belted with 55 seconds left. Hornet fans roared. A walk was whistled.

Oats (17 points, 17 rebounds) grabbed a defensive rebound with 29 seconds left, and the Hornets were still alive. Again Baker drove. But his shot wouldn’t fall with 14 seconds left, and Taylor-Thomas skied for the rebound, and then made two foul shots for a 62-59 lead.

Baker’s 3-point try  from the right wing to tie with three seconds left sailed wide left, and Taylor-Thomas made two more free throws to clinch victory for the resilient Bulldogs, who got 16 points from Cirl Byrd and 11 from Cameron Whiteside.

“We made it very tough on ourselves,” Atkinson said. “But all season  long, we’ve found ways to win games like this.”

THOMASVILLE (64)
Taylor-Thomas 22, Byrd 16, Whiteside 11, Jenkins 10, Cunningham 2, Wise 2, Johnson 1.

SALISBURY (59)
Oats 17, Leckonby 11, Holmes 9, Goodlett 6, Baker 6, Robinson 4, Gill 2, Harris 2, Fisher 2, Davis.

Thomasville   15  13 23 13 — 64
Salisbury         17  11 8  23—   59

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