West Rowan boys battle past Mustangs, 48-40

Published 12:34 am Saturday, January 27, 2018

By David Shaw

MOUNT ULLA — Watching West Rowan without point guard Martavio Rankin on Friday was a bit like watching the 1960’s sitcom Bewitched with the wrong Darrin.

It just didn’t seem right. Of course, senior Josiah Dixon and junior Zach Brawley did an admirable job filling in for the senior captain — who served the first of a four-game suspension for his participation in Wednesday’s brawl during a game with Central Cabarrus. And yet, the Falcons’ 48-40 North Piedmont Conference win against visiting East Rowan provided reason to celebrate.

“We were just a little bit off our rhythm,” winning coach Mike Gurley said. “Mostly because we didn’t have Martavio. The thing about Josiah, he hasn’t had the major reps, but you can always count on him playing hard. Because that heart inside that body is so big, just having him on the floor is something positive.”

West (11-8, 4-1) needed every bit of it to win this bumper-car-race to the finish line. It used a 16-5 fourth-quarter spurt to wrestle back the momentum and send East (7-12, 1-5) to its sixth loss in seven games.

“We struggled again offensively,” said East coach Kurt Misenheimer. “We play great defense every game against every team. The recurring theme is we can’t put the ball in the basket. We’ve had a tough time finding guys in our rotation, 0ne-through-eight, chipping in offensively night-in and night-out. We know there’s no quick fix for it.”

East had the early edge, jumping to a 10-4 lead before 6-foot-7 Elton Hooper crashed to the floor with a head injury with 6.1 seconds remaining in the first quarter. By the time he returned late in the second, West had surged to a 19-16 lead.

“Elton’s our most consistent offensive player,” Misenheimer said. “He’s our horse on offense. That (injury) slowed us down, took us out of our rhythm.”

Hooper, one of three East players to foul out, finished with 11 points before being disqualified in the final minute. Gabe Hinceman had a team-high 14 points, including two on a driving layup down the left aisle that put the Mustangs ahead, 35-34, with 3:30 remaining.

That’s when West’s Caleb Mauldin — the 6-8 post player who fought through foul trouble of his own — brought a reckless evening in for a safe landing.

“Caleb is such a physical player. He’s my K.P. Parks of basketball,” Gurley said after Mauldin scored 11 of his game-best 18 points in the last six minutes. “You might be able to tackle him in the first quarter. You might be able to tackle K.P. in the second quarter. But by the third, his hips are still moving and he’s still coming at you full speed. That’s how Caleb is. You can attack him many different ways, but eventually he’ll wear you out.”

It was still a 38-37 game when East’s Christian Bennett hit a 12-foot jumper from the right elbow with 2:27 to play. West used Mauldin’s power-drive layup to stretch its margin to 43-38 with 1:03 remaining, then sat back as Brawley converted five of six free throws in the last 43 seconds.

“The stand-up guy for us tonight was Zach Brawley,” Gurley said. “We went to a triangle-and-two and then a diamond-and-one, trying to keep (Bryson) Sprinkle from getting the ball. He’s so good as a ball-handler, he’s their captain. But Brawley’s defense against him in the fourth quarter was just huge. He made plays for us when we really needed them.”

NOTES: West’s administration has appealed Rankin’s suspension to the NCHSAA and requested a lighter penalty. … Brawley finished with a season-high 12 points. … The Falcons have won two in a row and seven of their last eight games entering Tuesday’s conference match at South Iredell. They remain tied for first in the NPC standings. East visits Carson on Tuesday.

EAST ROWAN (40) — Hinceman 14, Hooper 11, Scruggs 7, Sprinkle 5, Bennett 2, Jefferson 1, Spry, Jordan.

WEST ROWAN (48) — Mauldin 18, Brawley 12, Joseph 7, Stolsworth 6, Dixon 3, Hassard 2, Sproul, Tadlock, Myers.

East Rowan        10    9    10   11 — 40

West Rowan        4   17     8    19 — 48