North Rowan falls to Bishop McGuinness in regional final

Published 12:10 am Saturday, March 9, 2019

By David Shaw

HICKORY — Sooner or later, even the greatest stories lose their magic.

The stardust disappeared for North Rowan’s boys basketball team Saturday night at Catawba Valley Community College, where Bishop McGuinness surprised the third-seeded Cavs, 43-40, in the 1A West Region final.

“It’s over,” dejected senior Dayjuwon Cooke said, moments after third-seeded North (28-3) lost for the first time in 2019 and excused itself from the post-season table. “All because we had a bad start. We were prepared. It just didn’t happen how we wanted it to happen.”

The setback was particularly hard-to-swallow for North’s seniors and first-year coach Jason Causby, who steered the Cavaliers to 21 consecutive victories and the Yadkin Valley Conference regular-season and conference tournament titles.

“We’re incredibly disappointed,” Causby told a small group of post-game reporters. “When you lose in this round, that’s natural. There’s no consolation in finishing second. You always want to be the team that wins that last game. ”

No. 9 seed Bishop McGuinnes (23-8) won its fifth straight contest and advanced to next weekend’s state championship game in Chapel Hill. The Villains did it by slowing the game down, playing a deliberate pace that visibly frustrated North. They did it without throwing a knockout punch after mounting, then relinquishing, a 15-point first-half lead. They shot a pedestrian 38 percent from the field — including 2-for-13 in the fourth quarter — and failed to make a field goal in the final five minutes.

“We played exactly how we wanted to play,” said Bishop McGuinness guard Jake Ledbetter. “We do it on purpose. Our last few games have all been nail-biters. We’ve gotten so accustomed to playing under pressure that we know what to do.”

North, on the flip side, wasn’t quite sure. It spent the first half flailing away like a heavyweight about to hit the canvas, only to land an uppercut in the third period. The Cavs made only four of 17 field goal attempts — and launched just as many air balls — in an unsightly first two quarters. Cooke’s assertive layup from the right baseline trimmed the McGuinness lead to 22-9 at the break.

“We had gone a long time without getting the ball in the hole,” said Cooke, a 13-point scorer in his final prep game. “Going into halftime, I guess that gave us a little bit of life.”

Causby tried to say all the right things after his team did all the wrong things in the opening half.

“Nine points,” he said. “That’s a bad quarter for us, much less a half. Obviously, the first half did not go in any way, shape or form the way we wanted it to. They ran their stuff, packed in the lane on us and dared us to shoot the ball. We’ve been able to counter that all season long, just not tonight. In the end, we were right there and had opportunities. We just didn’t see them through.”

North’s burners finally ignited in the second half, sparked by Brevin Goodlett’s eight third-quarter points, a scoop layup by Derrick Page and a left-side floater by Zay Davis. With 2:05 remaining in the fourth, it took its first lead since the opening moments following a meltdown by McGuinness forward Andrew Budzinski — a burly, 6-3 junior was called for two technicals and a personal foul on the same whistle following a botched, uncontested dunk attempt.

“Andrew tried to dunk the ball and got really mad at himself,” said winning coach Josh Thompson. “We knew we’d run into some adversity at some point, but championship teams are able to handle that.”

They did, but not until North converted three of five free throws on the exchange. The last two by Page capped a 12-3 run and helped the Cavs snag a 40-39 edge.

“At that point,” said North’s Quintous Smith, “we just had to keep playing like a dog. We had to go get it.”

Instead, the Cavs had their championship-game hopes carjacked in the waning seconds. Mac McAlhany put the Villains back on top with a pair of free throws with 42.6 ticks on the clock and Ledbetter — the game’s high scorer with 16 points — iced it when he made both ends of a one-and-one with 14.1 seconds remaining.

“We were down, but no hole is too big to climb out of,” Cooke said. “We did what we had to do to make a comeback. It just didn’t work out.”

When it ended, Bishop McGuinness players kangarooed onto the court and celebrated with jubilant fans. The Cavaliers watched with dejection, accepted their runners-up plaque and shuffled back to their morgue-like locker room.

“You can’t dig yourself that big a hole that early,” Causby said. “Especially in a championship game like this. It was just a touch too much.”

NOTES: North finished 14-for-44 from the field (32 percent), but was just 1-for-12 in the fourth quarter. The Cavs never scored on a dunk and went 3-for-15 on three-point tries. … Bishop McGuinness held a 35-26 rebounding edge. It will meet Henderson Collegiate (31-2 with 18 straight wins), the No. 2 seed out of the East regional, in next Saturday’s final at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill.

BISHOP McGUINNESS (43) — Ledbetter 16, Budzinski 11, Caroway 8, M. McAlhany 6, Cressman 2, McDonough, Ingle, O’Hale, D. McAlhany.

NORTH ROWAN (40) — Page 13, Cooke 13, Goodlett 8, Smith 4, Davis 2, Goodes, Carpenter, Broaddus, Robinson.

Bishop McGuinness     8   14   12    9 — 43

North Rowan                  3    6    19   12 — 40