Moir Christmas Classic: Boys championship goes to Davie County

Published 12:25 am Sunday, December 30, 2018

By David Shaw

SALISBURY —Davie County’s victory in Saturday’s Dale’s/Sam Moir Christmas Classic championship game was a simple story, beautifully told.

The top-seeded War Eagles rolled up their sleeves, punched in and added another brushstroke to their picture-perfect season at Goodman Gym, where they sidestepped opportunistic Salisbury, 59-47, and claimed their first title since 2012.

“This is really a difficult tournament to win,” 17th-year coach Mike Absher exhaled, just moments after unbeaten Davie extended its victory binge to nine games. “It may have looked easy, but it wasn’t. By the third day, fatigue is definitely a factor. You’re playing on a bigger court and the start times are all over the place. I think, more than anything, it takes toughness.”

Davie survived a tense week of single-elimination drama — and did it more with style than substance. It prevailed not with power and thunder, but with a tantalizing wink-and-a-smile.

“They beat us with back-door plays and all that little stuff they do,” explained Salisbury coach Bryan Withers. “That comes with experience. That comes with playing together for a while and understanding each other.”

Salisbury (7-3) certainly put up a fight. The Hornets overcame an arctic-cold start — they jingle-bell rocked their first 13 field goal attempts — and found themselves down 13-2 before the game was six-minutes old.

“We couldn’t hit anything,” senior Cam Gill said. “We weren’t spacing ourselves on the floor, weren’t using the glass, weren’t making baskets.”

That changed in the second quarter when Gill caught fire and reserve guard Jacquez Smith — an unlikely propellant — sank the first of his six 3-pointers. The Hornets surged all the way back and took a 22-20 lead when Gill hit a 10-foot fadeaway midway through the period.

“Salisbury was very aggressive, very in-your-face defensively,” said Davie big man Owen McCormack, the tourney MVP. “I thought rebounding was a huge factor in the first half. If we could have rebounded better, maybe it’s not so close.”

One night after exploding for an avalanche of 3-pointers in a semifinal win against North Stanly, Davie was limited to six by the Hornets. None proved more significant than Brooks Johnson’s splashdown from the right corner that gave the War Eagles a 25-24 lead with 1:15 remaining in the first half. McCormack, who finished with a team-best 18 points, added a last-minute layup that helped DC close the half on a 7-0 run.

“I was really proud with how we closed the half,” Absher said. “That was big. We took the lead back and from a confidence perspective, that helped going into the second half.”

Perhaps, but it was still a close game throughout the third quarter. As Davie switched to a more effective 1-3-1 zone, Gill made a pair of free throws than trimmed a six-point Salisbury deficit. A minute later Smith’s 3-ball from the right side drew SHS within 34-33 before Michael Walton’s doorstep bank shot gave Davie a three-point edge with eight minutes to play.

“We had to make sure we closed it out,” said Walton. “I started thinking back to when Davie won this six years ago, when the (Martin) twins were here. I was a little kid, but I was so impressed. I knew I wanted to win this myself someday.”

That took one final push. Davie used back-to-back 3-pointers by McCormack and Jacob Hendrix early in the fourth quarter to fortify its lead. And when Walton scored on an off-balance floater from inside the lane, Davie owned a 50-41 advantage with 3:57 to play.

“Basically, I was trying to go inside and get fouled,” Walton offered. “But as I was falling I moved my body into a shooting position and got the shot off.”

“Just a weird shot,” McCormack added with a smile.

Not to Absher. “Michael is a great athlete,” he said. “That was just a tough, tough shot and he’s someone who can make those.”

Salisbury answered with two more home run balls by Smith — his third and fourth of the final stanza. Not to be outdone, Davie presented a convincing closing argument, scoring on an earthquake dunk by Hendrix and converting four of six free throws in the waning seconds.

“It was all back-door cuts and us not drawing charges,” said Smith, the Hornets’ top scorer with 18 points. “We don’t feel too good about this because it’s the same thing we did last year — lose in the finals. At least we’ll walk away knowing we played hard. We just came up short.”

Davie, meanwhile, walked away with the party’s most-coveted prize — the championship plaque.

“This is a culmination of a lot of hard work,” said Absher. “Some of these guys will move on and play college basketball, and that’ll be great. But I told them today, there’s nothing more fun than winning something for your school and your community. And boy, they did it today.”

They did, exiting with a beautifully told story.

NOTES: Other than McCormack, Davie’s Hendrix was named to the all-tournament team and senior point guard Troy Griggs earned the Ronz Award for sportsmanship. The rest of the all-tourney team included North Rowan’s Dayjuwon Cooke, Salisbury’s Gill and Zay Kesler and North Stanly’s Bryson Childress.

SALISBURY (47) — Smith 18, Gill 12, Brown 4, Kesler 4, R.Walker 3, Witherspoon 2, J.Walker 2, Norman 2, Chawlk, Harris, J.Fisher, McLean.

DAVIE COUNTY (59) — McCormack 18, Walton 12, Hendrix 11, Griggs 7, Johnson 6, Redmon 5, Chamberlain, Ratledge, Smith.

Salisbury               10    14     9    14 — 47

Davie County       15    12     9    23 — 59