High school girls basketball: Salisbury girls face big challenge in Newton-Conover

Published 11:43 pm Thursday, March 5, 2020

By Mike London

SALISBURY —  Salisbury’s girls basketball team will face its biggest challenge of the season on Saturday in the regional final — quite literally the biggest.

The next opponent is Newton-Conover’s Red Devils, and the third-seeded Red Devils (27-2) are centered around, by all accounts, a once-in-a-lifetime player,

Newton-Conover senior center Chyna Cornwell has signed with Rutgers University. It’s not just that Cornwell stands 6-foot-3, the problem is that she runs the floor like she’s 5-foot-3.

She’s not a slow-moving, clunky, earth-bound 6-foot-3, she’s a nimble, fast, rebounding, shot-blocking 6-foot-3.

When Newton-Conover rallied to beat second-seeded East Burke in overtime in the fourth round, Cornwell blocked East Burke’s first three shots in the overtime and two more at the end of the game.

So that’s something new. Salisbury hasn’t encountered many shot-blockers.

Cornwell accounted for 28 points and 25 rebounds against East Burke. She’s scored 26-25-30-28 in the Red Devils’ four playoff games.

For the season, she averages 26.2 points and 16.7 rebounds, and presumably, there have been a lot of blowouts where she sat down early.

Cornwell’s season high is 40 points. Her shooting percentage from the field  is 75 percent. Yes, 75 percent. She’s crazily efficient. There are a lot of 14-for-18s and 13-for-16s on her game log.

If there’s a weakness to Cornwell’s game, it’s the free-throw line. She shoots only 49 percent from there, and that could be a serious factor in a close game.

Newton-Conover has good players around Cornwell. Junior Grace Loftin, 5-10, averages 10 points per game. Freshman point guard Cassidy Geddes scores about 8 per game, while senior guard Aalia Walton gets 7 per contest, and senior forward Jahleah Peters adds another 7.

Top-seeded Salisbury (29-1) had three routine playoff wins against overmatched opponents, and then put it all together and surprised quite a few people with a tremendous win against a seasoned Forbush squad on Wednesday in the SHS gym. Forbush had pounded the Hornets in the fourth round a year ago.

The only Salisbury girls teams that have won 29 or more games were the 31-0 state champs of 2003-04, the 29-0 state champs of 2009-10 and the 29-3 state champs of 2008-09.

Senior Anayia Fulson leads the Hornets, who are coached by former Catawba star Lakai Brice. Fulson had 19 points on Wednesday and may have played the best game of a fine career. She’s scored 1,366 career points  and continues to move up the Hornets’ all-time list.

Sophomore Rachel McCullough has scored in double figures in seven of her last eight games. Freshmen Kyla Bryant and Jamecia Huntley scored in double figures on Wednesday, and the 5-foot-10 Huntley who will have to provide a lot of the defense against Cornwell, had a terrific rebounding game. Salisbury gets a lot of hustle plays from Jaleiah Gibson and Mary Morgan. They came through with tough rebounds in key situations on Wednesday.

Salisbury’s offense has been up and down, but a stingy defense has been a constant. Newton-Conover averages 66 points, but the Hornets would like to play this one in the 50s.

Salisbury has positive history against Newton-Conover. There have been several regional showdowns. The Hornets beat Newton-Conover in a 2003 regional semifinal, a game that would be a springboard to their runaway success in the years that followed. In 2010 and 2011, the Hornets beat Newton-Conover in tough regional fights on the way to state titles.

Newton-Conover’s last 2A state title was in 1992.

Saturday’s game will tip off at noon at Catawba Valley Community College in Hickory.

While regional games are technically at regional sites, this will basically be a home game for Newton-Conover, which is about 10 minutes away from CVCC.

Top-seeded Farmville Central and third-seeded Kinston are tangling for the East championship at 4 p.m. on Saturday at East Carolina.