High school basketball: West boys hammer Hounds, tie for first
By Mike London
MOUNT ULLA — The scoreboard clock indicated 1:45 remaining to be played in the first half of Friday’s North Piedmont Conference game.
Statesville’s veteran head coach Sonny Schofield has enjoyed spirited battles with coach Mike Gurley’s West Rowan Falcons for a very long time, and he was delighted his underdog team was still within striking distance.
The Greyhounds were down 10, 34-24, against one of the league’s elite teams.
Schofield used a timeout to make sure the Greyhounds stayed calm and didn’t do anything to take themselves out of the game during the 105 seconds that remained before halftime when he could make adjustments and pep talks and his players could take deep breaths.
But those 105 seconds seemed endless. Out of that timeout, West Rowan had a 13-0 burst to close the half. Now it was 47-24, and it was over.
West scored 31 in the second quarter. The final was 82-43. It was not a standard Statesville game. Reserves got to finish the Greyhounds off, and Statesville has provided as much pain and hardship for West as anyone over the last decade.
The Falcons can score and are capable of wicked spurts like the one they put together on Friday, but there were serious questions after they appeared to hit the wall last week. They had to wiggle past South Iredell at home before being trounced 81-67 by NPC co-champ North Iredell in Olin.
West’s first adversity of the season appeared at about the same time that the Falcons ascended to a No. 1 3A ranking by MaxPreps.
West is obviously good — they have five senior starters plus outstanding freshman Juke Harris — but No. 1 in 3A? That had to bring extra pressure, had to put addiitional weight on everyone to play well enough to justify that lofty rating.
“I think we did get burdened by expectations and expectations can weigh heavily on the shoulders of young men,” Gurley said. “I thought we played tired. South Iredell took it to us pretty good, and then North Iredell just flat beat us, outplayed us, and that’s why we had to share the conference championship with them.”
Now sixth in the 3A rankings, just one slot above a North Iredell team that has size and a great shooter, West (11-1, 9-1) seems to have gotten back on track this week.
Four in double figures in Tuesday’s 50-point win against a feisty Carson team that has been playing people tough.
Four in double figures in Friday’s blowout of Statesville, smaller than usual, but still athletic.
AJ Mauldin scored 16. Jalen Moss had 14. Man-mountain Zeek Biggers, the Georgia Tech football signee, and Braden Graham scored 13 each.
“I think we’ll be fine,” Gurley said. “We got back to just going out there and playing and having fun and not worrying about expectations. Guys played hard and played together like they’d been doing.”
The spark can come from a lot of different places for West. Gurley said it was reserve post player Josh Noble, who was in the role of catalyst on Friday.
“His energy was fantastic and he was getting us the loose balls.” Gurley said. “I thought Graham had his energy back tonight. I thought Mauldin did a great job of getting us started. And Moss is always Moss. He gets in the lane and does Chris Paul-like things for us. I’ve had a whole lot of good players, a lot of special players, but he’s a little different than anyone I’ve ever coached.”
While an outright conference championship would’ve been sweet, the co-championship with North Iredell, a worthy adversary, still meant something to Gurley.
West has won Christmas tournaments and conference tournaments in the last decade, but it hadn’t been able to claim a regular-season banner since the 2009-10 season.
“I looked at all the banners, and this is the 21st regular-season championship for the program,” Gurley said. ‘That’s pretty cool when you think about it. Cool that the Class of ’21 got the 21st one. I’m really happy for our guys. Basketball gives them some normalcy in a world that’s not normal. Basketball is the best thing they have going for them.”
Another meeting with North Iredell is likely to happen in the week ahead.
A Saturday coin flip will determine whether West Rowan or North Iredell is seeded No. 1 for the conference tournament.
The team with the better seed will always be the home team as the NPC tournament plays out, so that flip will be important. It will be a surprise if the tourney title doesn’t come down to a third meeting between the Falcons and North Iredell. West would much rather play that one in Mount Ulla than in Olin.
The NPC gets only one automatic berth in the 3A playoffs, but whoever ends up as the league’s second-best should still make the bracket as a wild-card team.
“But the thing about the playoffs this year is that with the field being so much smaller, that first-round game is going to be like a third-round game, a sectional final in the old days,” Gurley said. “The NPC’s No. 1 is going to have someone good coming to play them. I’m pretty sure No. 2 will get in, but they’ll be traveling to play someone very good in the first round.”
STATESVILLE (43) – C. Brown 18, Stevenson 5, Miller 5, Robinson 5, Q. Brown 4, Moore 3, Nicholson 3.
W. ROWAN (82) — Mauldin 16, Moss 14, Biggers 13, Graham 13, Wood 8, Allison 6, Noble 5, Harris 5, Givens 2, Currie.
Statesville 12 12 12 7 — 43
W. Rowan 16 31 23 12 — 82