Slow start, then Salisbury boys roll past South Rowan

Published 12:03 am Saturday, February 16, 2019

By David Shaw

SALISBURY — Bryan Withers devised an ingenious way for Salisbury’s boys basketball team to recognize it’s senior class Friday night — until the plan nearly backfired.

Withers, the Hornets’ fourth-year coach, sent all six of his upperclassmen onto the court for the start of their final regular-season home game against South Rowan. As expected, Salisbury was called for a technical foul and its coach was confined to a seat on the bench.

“They all come to practice and give everything they have,” Withers said, moments after Salisbury posted a 60-41 Central Carolina Conference victory. “I couldn’t figure out a way to do it fairly. I felt every one of them deserved it. I had to sit because it was a bench technical, but I was OK with it.”

Moments later, forward Jack Fisher retreated to the bench and South quickly built a 10-0 lead. “So I had to take the seniors out,” Withers said. “They were too excited, weren’t playing very well and just trying to do their own thing. I brought in a second group of some of the younger guys and we got back into it.”

Salisbury (16-7, 14-4) recovered in time to finish tied for second place in the league standings and secure a No. 3 seed in next week’s conference tournament. South (4-20, 4-14) backed into eighth place — the final tournament berth — when East Davidson fell to Oak Grove in overtime.

“At first we came out sluggish,” senior Cam Gill said. “Ya know, Senior Night, the big crowd. It effects how you play. After a while we realized they shouldn’t really be in the game with us.”

South coach Andre McCain pointed to the third period, when Salisbury used a 12-2 run to take command, as pivotal.

“The third quarter has been our achilles heel all season,” McCain said after the Raiders finished the conference season on a three-game slide. “We just seem to come out flat and dig ourselves a hole. As hard as we’ve played, that’s what’s plagued our season.”

It plagued them again on Friday. Salisbury rallied within 11-10 after one quarter and crawled ahead, 23-16, at halftime. Two 3-pointers by freshman Cam Stout helped Salisbury forge a double-digit lead early in the third period before baskets by Raheim Walker and Joe Witherspoon pushed the margin to 43-27. Stout, who cut his teeth with junior varsity squad, has played three varsity games for the Hornets and buried four long balls in each of them.

“He’s our shooter,” Gill said. “We’ve got to keep finding ways to get him open.”

Despite the small sample size, Withers is clearly enamored with Stout’s long-range stroke.

“We know he can put the ball in the basket,” Withers said. “What people don’t know is that he can pass and do a lot of other things. He built his confidence down on jayvees and now he’s doing good things for us.”

Other memorable moments came when Salisbury’s Luwon Blackwell took an ally-oop feed from Gill and jammed a shot midway through the third quarter. Then in fourth, senior Bill Fisher — the 6-foot-5 forward who underwent back surgery last summer — scored on a soft, don’t-wake-the-baby dunk that provided a 58-35 lead.

“We had a pep rally today and Luwon did a two-handed, 360 in the dunk contest,” Withers said. “And Bill, I wasn’t sure if he would try that play. It’s something for him to build on. Last year he would have hammered that.”

NOTES: Salisbury will host No. 6 seed West Davidson in its CCC tournament opener on Monday night. The Hornets swept the Dragons in conference play, winning 80-67 last Dec. 4 and 78-70 on Feb. 4. … South opens the tourney at top-seed North Davidson on Monday.

South Rowan (41) — Hines 15, Jones 6, Finger 5, Peacock 5, Thompson 4, Carter 4, Fullard 2, Graham, Stanley, Barnes.

Salisbury (60) — Stout 12, Witherspoon 11, Smith 6, Gill 6, R.Walker 6, Chawlk 4, Blackwell 4, Carlton 3, B.Fisher 2, Brown 2, Norman 2, J.Walker 1, J.Fisher 1, White, Alford.

South Rowan     11    5   11   14 — 41

Salisbury            10   13  20  17 — 60