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Dale’s/Sam Moir Christmas Classic: Salisbury boys pound West Rowan

By David Shaw

sports@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — After falling to Davie County in last year’s Dale’s/Sam Moir Christmas Classic final, the Salisbury boys basketball team has dubbed this season “Unfinished Business.”

“I still remember it,” senior guard Jacquez Smith said Thursday night at Goodman Gym. “Wasn’t a good feeling. But that’s our mindset this year, to win the championship. To do that, we have to lock everyone up on one page.”

The fourth-seeded Hornets took an all-important first step when they flew past West Rowan, 82-62, in the opening round. It earned them a semifinal berth opposite East Rowan at 7:30 p.m. today.

“This Christmas tournament is really competitive,” said SHS coach Bryan Withers. “Every team has a chance. At least, a lot of them do.”

That includes the Hornets (5-3), who placed five scorers in double figures and repelled every West Rowan (4-3) rally. Junior forward Nate Brown used his 6-foot-5 frame to muscle inside for three layups that sparked a 14-1 Salisbury scoring spurt in the second quarter. Jalon Walker’s back-door layup — off a whisper-soft feed by Brown — provided a 27-12 lead with 3:42 remaining in the first half.

“They just beat us in every aspect of the game,” said West coach Mike Gurley. “We’re still working on our chemistry. This is our seventh game together. They’ve got essentially the same team as last year. They’ve played what, 30 or 35 games together?”

That didn’t prevent Withers from sweating out an 11-9 first quarter.

“It was a nerve-wracking game,” he acknowledged. “All day, I’ve had the nerves because I know what kind of team they have. And our football players aren’t quite there yet, physically. It’s a different kind of getting-in-shape. They’ve got to get to basketball shape. They don’t know all of our sets yet. They don’t know a lot of stuff. But they helped us a ton by doing the things we asked them to do — rebound the ball, play defense and attack.”

They were asked to come through after fifth-seeded West shaved a 17-point, first-half deficit to 40-34 on an acrobatic layup by senior forward Chaz McCombs early in the third quarter. “Once we got up, we started turning the ball over,” said Smith, who scored nine of his 11 points in the first half. “We got a little lazy with the ball.”

Salisbury recouped and answered with a 9-2 scoring surge, capped when sophomore Cameron Stout sank a 10-foot jumper from the left side and followed it with a 3-pointer that made it 49-36.

Three-point plays by West’s Jay Joseph and high-scorer Jalen Moss drew the Falcons within 66-54 with 5:09 remaining — but again Salisbury had a response. This time it used a 10-0 run, capped when Joe Witherspoon parlayed a mid-court steal into a fastbreak layup, to make it 76-54 with 3:22 to play.

Salisbury’s Zay Kesler had a team-high 20 points, including two on a one-handed scoop layup as he barreled down the lane late in the third quarter.

“He’s a special player,” said Withers. “His whole demeanor has changed — and that has helped us. This year he’s so much more positive and always into the game. Because of that, he makes a lot of great plays.”

More will be needed against East (2-9), the No. 8 seed that planted tourney-favorite North Rowan in the opening round.

“We’re trying to move on one game at a time,” said Smith. “We still have to play hard. Our coach stays on us, just to make sure we don’t get comfortable.”

WEST ROWAN (62) — Moss 20, McCombs 12, Cooper 9, Biggers 6, Wood 4, Warren 3, Joseph 3, Hassard 2, Connelly 2, Weeks 1, Loeblein, Allison, Currie.

SALISBURY (82) — Kesler 20, Stout 13, Norman 12, Smith 11, Brown 10, Witherspoon 6, White 6, Walker 2, McLean 2, Harry, Cherry, Clay, Alford.

West Rowan      9    15    20    18 — 62

Salisbury          11    26    20    25 — 82

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