Boys impress opposing coach

Published 2:59 pm Thursday, January 7, 2016

SALISBURY – Never mind for a moment that Davie’s boys basketball team went 1-2 in the annual Sam Moir Christmas Classic at Catawba College.

The War Eagles did a lot of good things.

• In the first round, they beat West Rowan 74-73 on Cory Heiner’s late basket.

• In an 83-75 loss to eventual champion North Rowan (10-2), they rallied from a 17-point deficit and got within four in the fourth quarter.

• In a 78-70 loss to Salisbury in the third-place game on Dec. 30, third-seeded Davie gave the top-seeded Hornets fits all game.

And don’t forget Davie (8-5) played the entire tournament without senior L.P. Mua, a 6-4, 205-pounder and the only true center on the team. All in all, it was a thunderous signal to the Central Piedmont Conference that it would not be wise to take Davie lightly the rest of the way out. Coach Mike Absher’s team features enviable balance and an array of perimeter scorers. The War Eagles play hot potato with the ball and you never know who the go-to guy is going to be on a particular night.

Salisbury coach Bryan Withers marveled at Davie’s savvy, toughness and unselfishness.

“Davie plays the game very, very hard,” Withers said after his strong 2-A team improved to 11-2. “They’re one of the toughest teams you’ll find fundamentally. I’m always amazed at the things that coach Absher gets out of his kids every year. You can’t go into a Davie County game sluggish or not ready to play and think you’re going to win. They never give up. They always play so fundamentally sound.”

Heiner is sneaky in his ability to play inside at 5-11. He can finish in a lot of different ways, and he has a feathery touch with a quick release. He doesn’t have a good runner; he has a great runner.

And Heiner was magnificent at the outset against Salisbury. He scored 10 points in the first three minutes to stake Davie to a 12-4 lead. He scored on a fastbreak with a pass from Heath Slabach. He slashed inside to score, prompting Withers to call timeout 46 seconds into the game. He hit a 17-footer. He streaked to the rim in transition. Then he scored inside again.

“They have weapons,” Withers said. “You don’t know who’s going to score and who’s going to do what. I want my team to be that type of team that passes the ball to whoever’s open and doesn’t worry about who gets the points. If we could ever get to that point, man, win or lose you would see a coaching smiling.”

“At shoot-around today, we were talking about how Heiner’s able to finish and score around the basket,” Absher said. “He finishes at a much higher rate than most people would think. He’s our starting five (center). He’s smart. He works on his floater. In skill development, we work on that.”

Jordan McDaniel’s 3-pointer provided a 17-8 lead. Heiner cooled off and Salisbury weathered the storm – and then some, ending the first quarter on a 13-5 run and surging to a 47-38 advantage by halftime. Cooper Wall kept Davie alive in the second by scoring eight points on tough jumpers, as well as a no-look pass to McDaniel for a layup.

Wall took over again in the third, scoring eight. He and Slabach accounted for 15 of Davie’s 18 points in the period. Wall nailed a jumper in a guy’s face to cut the deficit to 57-51. On an inbounds play, Slabach hit a 3-pointer from the corner to cut it to 61-56. Absher was hit with a technical foul for the first time in years, and Salisbury pushed out to a 65-56 lead after three.

When you hang around, anything can happen. And Davie fans roared in appreciation when the War Eagles rallied within one and two points in a tense fourth. McDaniel, Slabach and Starnes scored four points each during a 14-6 run. Starnes went two for two at the foul line to pull Davie within 71-70 with 1:10 to go.

“We made a good adjustment with the 1-3-1 trap,” Absher said. “We got enough stops to have a chance to win. So I’m really proud of my guys for doing that.”

Salisbury hit a free throw to make it 72-70, with McDaniel rebounding the miss. With 30 seconds left, Starnes missed a tough jumper from 15 feet. Michael Walton was called for a foul on the rebound attempt. He said something out of frustration, but he quickly calmed down and headed down the court as Salisbury was going to the free-throw line. But an official stared him down and decided to stick him with a technical. Davie fans were irate.

That all but ended the game. The Hornets converted six of eight foul shots to salt it away.

“You’d like the game to be played out at that point in time,” Absher said. “It was a good game. Hats off to Salisbury. They played really well. They had a tough, emotional loss last night and they were ready to play.”

Even though the ending was not what Davie was hoping for, it had another strong offensive performance against another lightning-quick opponent. Wall led five guys in double figures with 18 points. Slabach had 16, Heiner 12, McDaniel 11 and Starnes 10.

“They were tough for us inside,” Absher said. “When No. 23 (D.J. Alexander) and No. 0 (Tre Oats) are both in there, that’s tough matchups. But we played three really good teams. The CPC is one of the toughest leagues around, so it’ll only help us going down the stretch.”

Six War Eagles are averaging at least 7.4 points. McDaniel is first with a 12.6 average, followed by Slabach (12.5), Starnes (11.7), Wall (11.3), Heiner (7.7) and Mua (7.4).

Salisbury 78, Davie 70 – Cooper Wall 18, Heath Slabach 16, Cory Heiner 12, Jordan McDaniel 11, Nic Starnes 10, Dylan Shoffner 2, Michael Walton 1.