High school boys basketball: Hornets aren’t great, but they advance

Published 7:12 am Wednesday, February 22, 2023



By Mike London

SALISBURY — Salisbury boys basketball head coach Bryan Withers handed out C’s on every report card after Tuesday’s opening round of the 2A state playoffs.

“We not only didn’t shoot it well, we didn’t rebound well,” said Withers, performing his best impression of The Grinch on Christmas Eve. “Offensively, it was like we constantly were in a rush and our defense was more disappointing then our offense. We gambled way too much, gave them layups. I didn’t like our body language.  I didn’t think we were mentally ready to play. This is the playoffs. I don’t care who you’re playing against in the playoffs, you don’t go through the motions. You’ve got to approach every playoff game like you’re playing against an undefeated team.”

On the bright side, the Hornets’80-48 victory over Pine Lake Prep was their 20th win of the season. That’s a nice season, especially after the Hornets undertook a holiday non-conference schedule that was borderline suicidal. It’s true that every outing hasn’t been a highlight tape, but Salisbury (20-5) has won 13 straight games.

Pine Lake Prep probably was pretty impressed with the Hornets. After all, the 27th-seeded Pride was on the short end on the scoreboard in the historic SHS gym.

Salisbury, despite delivering less than its best, won big.

But Withers did have a valid point. On Tuesday, Salisbury would not have been good enough to beat West Caldwell. Or Reidsville. Or North Surry. And if you play long enough, teams of that caliber are coming and you’re going to be playing in their gym. The state playoffs are rapid-fire. By Saturday, when the third round gets here, only the elite teams are going to be left on the court.

Sixth-seeded Salisbury was the only Rowan boys team to survive the first round. That wasn’t a shock. West Rowan and North Rowan gave a good account of themselves as road underdogs, but their seasons are over.

“We did win a playoff game,” Withers said cheerfully. “So that was a good thing. Survive and advance. Play better in the next one.”

Juke Harris didn’t make a lot of jumpers and didn’t seem to be having a monster night, but if you looked in the scorebook when it was all over, he scored 31 points.

He does that quite a bit.

“Juke didn’t shoot it great, but he’s a scorer and when his shots aren’t falling he still finds a way,” Withers said.

Harris made two 3-pointers and was 9-for-14 from the foul line. Most of his buckets came near the rim. He’s quite a bit stronger than he was last season and he can finish through a lot of contact. He gets more than his share of and-ones.

No one else hit double figures for the Hornets, but points came in bits and pieces from all over. Jonathan Ross made two 3-pointers. There was a Mike Geter drive here and a Deuce Walker stick-back there. Jalen Chunn, Hank Webb and Dashawn Brown made their free throws.

Harris hit both of his 3-pointers in the first quarter to propel the Hornets to a 20-13 lead. He spent a lot of the second quarter at the foul line. The Hornets took a 39-23 lead to the locker room.

“The thing that stood out about Pine Lake Prep (14-12) is they were aggressive,” Withers said. “They killed us on the glass in the first half, just took it to us. They’ve got some good size.”

Lucas Strickfaden scored 15 for the visitors.

Salisbury played tougher on the boards in the second half, took a 58-39 lead to the third quarter and won going away.

“We definitely were better in the second half,” Withers said.

East Surry (13-12) is next for the Hornets on Thursday. The boys from Pilot Mountain are seeded 22nd but beat No. 11 seed Maiden 57-52 on Tuesday. East Surry was runner-up in a conference that includes No. 1 seed North Surry. A tough test? It might be.

Harris averages 30 per game and bumped his season scoring total to 753 points. The school and county records for points in  a season (767) have been held by Bobby Phillips since 1994.

Pine Lake Prep    13    10    16   9    —  48

Salisbury              20    19     19  22   — 80

Salisbury — Harris 31, Geter 8, Ross 8, Brown 6, Walker 5, Davis 5, Webb 4, Chunn 4, House 3, Colbert 2, Davidson 2, Goodlett 2.