High school basketball: West boys battle, but Statesville takes outright title
By Mike London
MOUNT ULLA — It was tough to tell which team was the league champ and which team was trying to avoid its 20th loss.
West Rowan played with passion and pride on Friday’s Senior Night, but fell just short against Statesville. The talented Greyhounds pulled out a 71-68 victory to earn an outright North Piedmont Conference championship. Statesville (14-9, 9-1) finished a game ahead of South Iredell and two up on Carson.
The Falcons, who finished fifth in the six-team league, held a 68-67 lead with 4.5 seconds left, but that’s when Stateville’s Miykei Fields made a titanic shot. He was leaning across the 3-point line, he was hanging, and his left-wing shot was fiercely contested, but he made it anyway. No crazy rolls or lucky banks were required. He calmly swished it — like it was supposed to happen.
It’s been that kind of season for the Falcons (4-20, 2-8).
West’s length-of-the-court pass on its final possession resulted in a turnover before Fields got a stickback on his own missed one-and-one free throw at the end to tack on the final two of the night.
“Our guys have done a good job of all year of just continuing to play hard, continuing to play that next game,” upbeat West coach Mike Gurley said. “We haven’t worried about the standings, we focus one giving our best effort. As far as tonight, we had six seniors — Bryson Moss, Zack Brawley, Payne Stolsworth, Jeriah Ford, Layton Butler and Davis Tadlock — that I couldn’t have asked for any more than they gave.”
West got off to a super start, with a fast-paced victory by the West girls, Senior Night ceremonies, and a full gym energizing Gurley’s squad, who bore little resemblance to the shaky troops who opened the season with a string of lopsided losses.
The relentless hustle of Butler and Tadlock and Zeek Biggers’ wide frame were causing problems for the visitors. Brawley was making tough shots. When Stolsworth buried a long-distance 3-pointer from deep in the left corner, the Falcons led 17-6.
That was the wake-up call for coach Sonny Schofield’s team. Statesville got serious, accelerated the pace, attacked hard, and sliced West’s lead to 21-17 by the end of the quarter.
By halftime, West’s early advantage in energy and emotion was long gone, but the Falcons were still up, 38-37.
In the third quarter, Statesville’s speed advantage allowed the visitors to temporarily take command. Greyhounds were getting to the rim with alarming frequency. Then Fields and Jeremiah Mott, who scored 17 points, knocked down 3-pointers.
The Falcons slipped behind by a dozen at 53-41, but just when it looked over, they found their second wind. Brawley got hot. West got back within 57-50 by the end of the third quarter.
The fourth quarter was a blur. West was the aggressor and just kept coming. With 1:40 remaining. Stolsworth found himself open from well beyond the 3-point line at the top of the circle and let it fly. The swish that followed tied the game at 65-all.
“Really big shot by Payne,” said Brawley, who led the Falcons with 22 points. “The goal has just been to play hard all the time, every night, and we did that again.”
With the Falcons down two. Brawley tied the game again at 67-all with two clutch free throws. There were 45 seconds left.
Now it was crunch time, and West had one of its best defensive stands of the night. A couple of Statesville penetration attempts didn’t produce a shot. Then Devante Knox bounced into the lane and flipped up a contested shot. He missed, and Stolsworth came down with the rebound in traffic. It’s unlikely he’s ever jumped higher.
Stolsworth was fouled on that rebound. He missed his first throw, but after a Statesville timeout, he made the second to put the Falcons up 68-67 with 13.7 seconds left.
But for West, agony followed that brief ecstasy. Fields, who scored 21 points, made his terrific shot with 4.5 second on the clock, and the Greyhounds escaped. If he misses that shot, Statesville would have shared first place with South Iredell.
“It seems like we’ve had a lot of those games this season,” Brawley said. “The close ones haven’t gone our way.”
It was another loss on the scoreboard.
In other ways, it was a triumph. For a 4-20 team to play that hard and that well for that long — that meant something.
“We played some of the best defense we’ve played, but Statesville still scored 70 and that’s why they’re the conference champs,” Gurley said. “But our seniors can be proud of how they went out at home. Tonight was about finishing the right way, and they finished the right way.”
NOTES: Statesville will host the semifinals and the championship game of the NPC tournament. … West had only four fouls in the second half, going into the final minute and took a few on purpose. … Brawley topped 20 points for the first time since a 25-point effort against East Rowan in the Christmas tournament. … The Mosses, Bryson and Jalen, combined for 13 points for the Falcons. … Stolsworth made four 3-pointers.
STATESVILLE (71) — Fields 21, Mott 17, Brown 10, Moore 10, Knox 4, Gathings 4, Williams 3, White 2.
WEST (68) — Brawley 22, Stolsworth 16, B. Moss 9, Butler 9, Biggers 6, J. Moss 4, Ford 1, Tadlock 1, Hassard.
Statesville 17 20 20 14 —71
W. Rowan 21 17 12 18 — 68
By Mike London email@example.com MOUNT ULLA — West Rowan’s Whitley Arnott’s free throw slid off the rim to the left,... read more