Boys erase 15-point deficit

Published 9:39 am Thursday, January 14, 2016

For three quarters, Davie’s varsity boys didn’t look anything like the team coach Mike Absher expected to see after a respectable showing in the Christmas tournament at Catawba.

But in the fourth quarter at North Davidson on Jan. 5, Jordan McDaniel and the War Eagles pulled off a comeback they won’t soon forget, erasing a 15-point deficit and winning 80-78.

The Black Knights dropped to 3-10 overall and 0-2 in the Central Piedmont Conference. Davie, playing its first league game since Dec. 18, improved to 9-5, 2-2. The CPC mark is significant because Davie went 1-23 in the league in 2013-14 and 2014-15.

“It was definitely one that will be remembered for a long time,” Absher said after McDaniel hit two late free throws for the game’s final points. “We made two good changes. We started pressuring their ball handlers, which opened up some stuff for us. And we played five-out on offense to try to get more penetration and get to the foul line. The guys really did a good job on both of those things.”

North guard Seth Hill banged three 3-pointers in the first quarter, which ended with North in front 16-13. Absher found a solution to Hill. He summoned Cory Heiner, who handcuffed Hill from the second quarter on. Hill hit two field goals over the final 24 minutes and finished with 14 points.

“(Hill) did not score in the fourth quarter,” Absher said. “That was huge. Cory did a great job on him. We told him to lock him down and not worry about any help responsibilities. You know how tough Cory is, and he just loves challenges like that.”

Davie missed 19 of 30 field goals in the first half and found itself behind 34-27. It got worse in the third, with the North lead moving to 62-49 despite McDaniel’s 11 points in the quarter. At that point, McDaniel was 4 for 4 from 3-point land. It’s a good thing, or Davie might have been down by twenty-some.

“We were making shots, but we could not get over the hump,” Absher said.

The deficit reached 64-49 in the first minute of the fourth as Davie clanged its first four shots. There was only a glimmer of hope.

“We felt like there were going to be enough possessions to win the game,” Absher said. “It was just going to be a matter of whether or not we could get some stops.”

In a stunning reversal, Davie caught absolute fire and came roaring back by hitting 11 of its last 14 shots. For the quarter, Heath Slabach had nine points, McDaniel eight, Heiner six and Cooper Wall and Nic Starnes four each. After going 4 of 9 from the foul line in the first three quarters, Davie went 8 of 10 in the fourth.

In a 10-2 run that cut North’s lead to 66-59, Slabach and Starnes hit four straight free throws, Heiner drove from the key to the rim for two, Starnes hit a pull-up from 16 feet and Slabach drove in for two.

North answered, pushing the margin back to 72-61. Undaunted, Davie went on an 11-0 run. After Heiner converted inside, he picked up a loose ball and scored under the basket. After McDaniel blocked a North shot, he took a pass from Wall, split two defenders and hit a layup. When Heiner caused a turnover and Wall grabbed the ball near midcourt and raced down for a dunk, the War Eagles were within 72-69.

The 11-0 run that tied the game was capped this way: Wall, playing in-your-face defense, knocked the ball away and threw ahead to Slabach, who hit a fastbreak layup as he was fouled, brining the Davie fans to their feet. He completed the three-point play.

After North regained a 74-72 lead, Starnes threw a backdoor pass to McDaniel, who was fouled and hit both free throws with 63 seconds remaining. North answered again to take a 76-74 lead. McDaniel got a steal on the North end and passed to Wall, who made a double-pump layup with 45 seconds to go. A few seconds later, North was at the other end hitting a layup and taking a 78-76 lead. Then McDaniel attacked, left his defender in the dust and scored to tie it at 78.

Instead of letting North hold for one shot, Slabach came up with a steal on a pass in the paint. McDaniel made an aggressive move to the lane, the North defender hit the floor and the whistle blew. The call: Block. With 17.7 seconds left, McDaniel hit both free throws to give Davie its first lead – yes, its first lead – of the game.

North advanced the ball to halfcourt and called timeout at :12.2. Wall guarded the ball handler out top. North passed to the right wing. It tried a long, desperation 3 and Starnes blocked it. McDaniel caught it and Davie, which had lost four straight in the series, had its first win over North since 2012-13.

There were many factors in the classic comeback, foremost among them McDaniel, who had 26 points on 8-of-13 shooting. His previous varsity high was 20 in last year’s win over Mooresville. Slabach had 14 points. Wall had 14 on 6-of-10 shooting to go with five assists. Heiner hit 7 of 11 shots for 14 points, and he also had six rebounds and three steals. Starnes only attempted six shots, but still turned in seven points, five rebounds, four assists and four steals. Gabe Gonnella came off the bench to contribute two blocks.

Here’s one of the season’s biggest stats: Davie is 4-0 in games decided by one or two points. There’s a lot to be said for winning when things aren’t going according to plan.

“I can’t even tell you how tough our guys have been in that situation,” Absher said. “They’ve answered and answered those runs. Once again we did it tonight. Obviously we don’t like being in that position, but we feel like we’ve been there, we’ve played some really good teams and being in some close games has really paid off for us. It’s given us confidence to be able to make runs like that.”

McDaniel registered double figures for the eighth straight game. Slabach and Heiner extended their streaks to five and four, respectively.

On the next night, the War Eagles picked up a workmanlike 70-59 win over a team from Australia, the Casey Cavaliers. After winning 11 games the past two years combined, Davie improved to 10-5.

Heiner and Starnes led with 17 points apiece. The key was 19-for-25 foul shooting, with Starnes, Heiner and Slabach combining to hit 15.

“They weren’t bad,” Absher said. “They had only lost one coming in here (during Casey’s stay in the United States), and they’ve played seven or eight games. It’s the same team we played two years ago (and won 56-53). We did a good job of being mentally tough after that emotional win (at N. Davidson).”

Davie 78, N. Davidson 76 – Jordan McDaniel 26, Heath Slabach 14, Cooper Wall 14, Cory Heiner 14, Nic Starnes 7, Michael Walton 3, L.P. Mua 2.

Davie 70, Australians 59 – Cory Heiner 17, Nic Starnes 17, Cooper Wall 9, Jordan McDaniel 8, Michael Walton 7, Heath Slabach 6, Peyton Hampton 2, Dylan Shoffner 2, L.P. Mua 2.