High school basketball: Another agonizing loss for Salisbury boys
By Mike London
SALISBURY — Heartbreak isn’t much fun, and Salisbury’s boys basketball team has experienced more than its share of trauma.
The third-seeded Hornets lost for the ninth time on Monday in the first round of the Central Carolina Conference Tournament. They had the better seed and the home court, but they lost 60-57 to sixth-seeded Ledford (14-10).
Incredibly, eight of Salisbury’s losses have been by one, two of three points. They’re 15-9, but 23-1 obviously wasn’t all that far out of reach for this squad.
“Maybe it’s a confidence thing,” Salisbury coach Bryan Withers said. “It gets close at the end, and we’re like, ‘Oh, no, here we go.’ We haven’t been able to get over the hump, and I don’t have any answers.”
Salisbury is quickly running out of time to figure things out, but the Hornets aren’t done yet. They’ll be in the 2A state playoffs. There’s also the possibility of a seeding game between Salisbury and Central Davidson before this tournament is over. The teams tied for third in the standings, split with each other and both exited the CCC tourney in the first round.
Salisbury had lost by three points to Ledford in Wallburg and had beaten the Panthers at home, 54-53, with a wild finish, so their third matchup figured to be tight. It didn’t disappoint.
Zay Kesler scored a season-high 25 to lead the Hornets. JJ Barker, a 6-foot-5 post man, had 19 for Ledford, which has been playing without standout Walker Lackey.
“Lackey is probably their best player,” Withers said. “But they’re still a good team and their coach (Jason Anderson) is doing an amazing job.”
Kesler’s eight-point second quarter propelled the Hornets to a 30-25 lead late in the first half. Cameron Stout’s long 2-pointer stretched Salisbury’s edge to seven.
But then Salisbury missed at the foul line, and Ledford got the final points of the half.
“I thought the end of the half was the key stretch,” Withers said. “We’re at the three-throw line with a chance to go up nine. We miss, and they get a three-point play, and now we’re up four.”
When Barker began the second half with a 3-ball it was a one-point game. A Jabril Norman jumper gave Salisbury a short-lived 43-40 lead at the end of the third quarter. The teams wrestled from there all the way to the finish line.
With 47 seconds left, Ledford had the ball and a 58-56 lead. The Panthers melted 25 seconds off the clock in their delay game, but with the home crowd getting antsy, Kesler made a steal, drove hard and was fouled with 18.5 seconds left.
He made one free throw to cut the Panthers’ lead to 58-57.
After a timeout, Salisbury set up its full-court press, but the Panthers handled it. With five seconds left, Salisbury fouled Austin Reece,who hadn’t scored. He swished two at the line for 60-57.
Salisbury was able to get the ball to Kesler about 25 feet from the hoop on the last possession, but there were two Panthers on him, and he didn’t pull the trigger. He passed to a teammate at the top of the circle, but time expired before the Hornets could get a shot up.
“Kesler played well tonight, and Nate Brown (13 points) came on there in the second half,” Withers said. “But we didn’t shoot well at all.”
Salisbury didn’t make a single 3-pointer and got outscored at the foul line. It’s hard to win in today’s game with 2s. The math added up to another agonizing loss for the Hornets.
“We’ve just got to find a way,” Withers said.
Besides Barker, Ledford got double-figure production from Owen Finley (12), Brenner White (12) and Tyler Partee (11). Partee made one 3-pointer, but mostly that trio got points by getting to the rim and to the foul line.
Partee plans to play golf in college, but he’s not bad at all in hoops. His father, Jonathan, was a three-sport athlete and president of the seniors class at Salisbury in the late 1980s. He went on from there to play for Catawba.
Ledford advances to challenge second-seeded Lexington in a tournament semifinal. That game will be played on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Lexington.
Lexington beat Ledford twice in regular-season games by two points. Ledford won a two-point game against the Yellow Jackets in Davidson’s Christmas tournament.
LEDFORD (60) — Barker 19, Finley 12, B. White 12, Partee 11, Tate 4, Reece 2, Compton.
SALISBURY (57) — Kesler 25, Brown 13, L. White 6, Norman 5, Walker 4, Stout 2, Smith 2, Witherspoon.
Ledford 10 18 12 20 — 60
Salisbury 13 19 11 14 — 57
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