Moir Christmas Classic: Salisbury boys advance to title game

Published 1:21 am Saturday, December 29, 2018

By Mike London

SALISBURY — Coach Jason Causby wears the gold of the North Rowan Cavaliers now, but he’s also the worn the black and red of the Salisbury Hornets.

North Rowan vs. Salisbury on the hardwood? There’s really nothing quite like it, and Friday’s semifinal game in the Dale’s Sporting Goods Sam Moir Christmas Classic was no exception.

There’s just one thing that’s guaranteed when the Cavaliers and Hornets get together — intensity.

Third-seeded Salisbury beat second-seeded North in a mild upset, 59-54. It was rough and there were many missed jumpers and free throws, but it was thrilling.

“As inexperienced as we are, we’ve got some very tough kids and they showed that toughness tonight,”said jubilant Salisbury coach Bryan Withers, who was a big part of the Hornets’ 1987 Christmas tournament champions. “We’re going through a lot of growing pains right now with a lot of new faces, but games like this let you know you have a chance to be really good if everyone keeps working on it. I believe we’re going to be a very good basketball team.”

The toughest kid for Salisbury was Zay Kesler, a smooth junior guard who tossed in 22 points. He made massive shots in the fourth quarter and huge free throws at the end.

Leading North was Dayjuwon Cooke, a senior who threw down multiple crowd-pleasing dunks and matched Kesler’s 22.

North (7-1) started slowly.

“I think we made two shots in the first five minutes,” Causby said. “But then we found Cooke for a three-point play and a dunk of the first quarter, and we’ve got an 11-8 lead.”

When Quintous Smith made a 3-pointer in the second quarter, the Cavaliers led 18-11.

“No one is going to win by a blowout in a North-Salisbury game,” Causby said. “But I thought we were right on the verge of playing really well.”

But then Kesler changed things. He got hot. His 10-point second quarter included two 3-point bombs. Salisbury outscored North over a long stretch, 18-6, and sprinted to halftime with a 27-21 lead.

“In the third quarter, it seemed like we were playing pretty well, but we could only cut two points off their lead,” Causby said. “Kesler and Cam Gill were doing just enough to keep them ahead.”

While North gets the bulk of its points from three seniors — Cooke, Brevin Goodlett and Derrick Page — Withers was piecing together points wherever he could find them. Sophomore Joe Witherspoon was contributing. So were baseball and soccer star Jack Fisher and freshman Jalon Walker. Sophomore Nate Brown bounced off the bench to make the layup that put the Hornets up 38-34 after three quarters.

“We were getting out-rebounded and we should never be out-rebounded,” Causby said. “We should always be able to hang our hats on our rebounding.”

When Witherspoon scored with five minutes left to play, Salisbury led 49-38, but that’s when the Cavaliers got serious.

Page drilled a 3-pointer, Cooke scored in the paint, and Page swatted a Gill drive. Goodlett ripped a rebound away from a Hornet underneath and scored as he was fouled. When Goodlett missed the free throw, Page wiggled his way to rim for a putback. North owned a 9-0 run, the crowd was roaring, and the Hornets’ lead was down to 49-47.

The game was hanging in the balance at that point, but Kesler wouldn’t let the Hornets lose. Two clutch, contested floaters by Kesler later, the SHS lead was back to six with 2:55 remaining.

There were  several anxious moments for Withers down the stretch, but when Kesler made two free throws for a five-point lead with 12.4 seconds on the clock, the Hornets (7-2) were headed to the championship game.

“Salisbury-North, it’s almost always going to come down to who can make a play or two at the end,” Causby said. “Kesler made big ones for them tonight.”

The Hornets will play top-seeded Davie County (8-0) for the crown tonight at 8 o’clock. Salisbury hasn’t won this tournament since 2010, while Davie’s most recent victory came in 2012.

North Rowan is in today’s third-place game and takes on fifth-seeded North Stanly at 4:30.

SALISBURY (59) — Kesler 22, Gill 8, Witherspoon 8, Chawlk 7, J. Walker 6, J. Fisher 4, J. Smith 2, Brown 2, B. Fisher, Norman.

NORTH ROWAN (54) — Cooke 22, Goodlett 10, Page 10, Davis 4, Q. Smith 3, D. Robinson 3, Broaddus 2, Goodes, Wilson, White.

Salisbury          8      19       11     21  — 59

N. Rowan        11       8        13    22  — 54