High school basketball: Salisbury girls take first in CCC

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 10, 2021

By Mike London

SALISBURY — Salisbury’s offensive machines Kyla Bryant and Rachel McCullough combined for 40 points, but Natavia Taborn’s defensive energy was the single biggest reason the Hornets won 56-48 against North Davidson on Tuesday.

Taborn was a prolific scorer for North Rowan for three years, but after transferring to Salisbury for her senior season, she’s reinvented herself as role player who’s primary contribution is defense.

Salisbury’s quickest defender, Taborn spent most of Tuesday trying to deal with North Davidson’s talented junior guard Emily Hege, who has a soft touch, a great first step, a hard nose and knows how to use a screen.

“And she’s good at getting fouls called,” McCullough said. “That’s important. That’s a big part of the game.”

To view and purchase photos from Tuesday night’s game, click here.

Hege came in averaging 26 per game. She got 22 against the Hornets, but it was a hard-earned 22. She had to wrestle and squirm and fight for almost all of them. There was never any daylight for her, and if she did squeeze past Taborn, there was help on the way.

“Stay in front of No. 34 and keep my feet moving, that was the game plan,” Taborn said. “I tried not to give her any easy points. The team needed defense from me tonight, and I gave my all.”

Senior Night for the Hornets included a brief pregame ceremony honoring Taborn and rugged screener Jania Bolder. This is still a young team.

But a good team. The Hornets (10-1, 8-0) clinched some things in the Central Carolina Conference with the victory against the previously unbeaten Black Knights (9-1, 7-1). Salisbury will be the league’s No. 1 seed for the 2A state playoffs and for the conference tournament. More battles with North Davidson in the weeks ahead aren’t just possible, they’re probable.

“This was big for us as far as the playoff seeding,” McCullough said. “Great competition. A very fun game to play in. Hege is very good. We came into this league together and she keeps improving every year.”

Bryant, Salisbury’s smooth sophomore guard, led all scorers with 23.

She’s one of those people that it doesn’t seem like she has a big night, but then you look at the scorebook. She scored in a lot of ways, 3-pointers to get the Hornets started, and tough, acrobatic layups in the second half when every bucket was critical.

“I try to get my points in the flow of the game,” Bryant said with a smile.

Salisbury led 19-13 after a fast-paced first quarter, but the Black Knights had the edge in the second quarter. Salisbury only got seven points in that period — all by Bryant — as the offense got discombobulated and layups wouldn’t fall. On the other end, North Davidson sophomore Lettie Michael was making two 3-pointers, and the Hornets lead was sliced to 26-24 at the half.

“At halftime, we talked about defense,” Bryant said. “We knew we had to pick it up on that end.”

But the Black Knights also picked it up. They got even in a ferocious third quarter that featured Michael’s third 3-pointer and seven points by Hege. Now it was a 37-all deadlock.

“It was such a tough game and we knew it was going to come down to little things, who set the tough screens and who got on the floor for the loose balls,” Salisbury coach Lakai Brice said. “Going to the fourth quarter, we talked about picking up our defense, switching better and communicating better. Natavia (Taborn) was doing a heck of a job against Hege. She was making her take tough shots, making her dribble where we had help defenders. Those first four minutes of the fourth quarter, we played some great team defense.”

McCullough, who got nine of her 17 points in the fourth quarter, broke the 37-all tie with two free throws. Then Icesis Nwafor, who came through with nine big points, battled for a huge stickback and a four-point lead.

Then Salisbury got a stop and a chance to run. There was a miss and a scramble for possession, and McCullough wound up in the right spot at the right time. She buried a 3-pointer from the top — she doesn’t shoot often from there — and the Hornets finally had some separation with a 44-37 lead.

“I was the trailer in transition and I was in position to shoot when the ball came out to me,” McCullough said. “That was one we needed.”

Nwafor finished successfully off a well-designed inbounds play, and the the Hornets went up by nine. Bryant pushed the lead to 11 with one of her three fourth-quarter buckets as the clock moved under four minutes.

It still wasn’t over.

A couple of mistakes by the Hornets, two Hege free throws, a Courtney McMillan putback and a 3-ball by Hege from the left side after Taborn gambled for a steal, and the Black Knights were back in it at 50-44.

Michael scored in the lane for 50-46 with 39 seconds left, but McCullough made clutch free throws to finally put the game away.

Hege got substantial help from McMillan and Michael with 11 points each, but only four Black Knights scored.

Salisbury’s athletic post player Jamecia Huntley was limited by shin splints, but the Hornets got a lot of toughness, a couple of big buckets and several blocks from Jaleiah Gibson.

Taborn only scored two, but her defensive effort was critical in the exciting victory.

“Making the lineup switch to go with Natavia worked out for us,” Brice said. “She gave us everything she had. Se gave us what we needed.”


N. DAVIDSON (48) — Hege 22, McMillan 11, Michael 11, Minton 4, Brinkley, M. Altiers.

SALISBURY (56) — Bryant 23, McCullough 17, Nwafor 9, Gibson 4, Taborn 2, Huntley 1, Lynch, Noble, Bolder, Morgan.

N. Davidson    13   11   13  11   —  48

Salisbury        19    7    11  19   —  56