Varsity boys lose in OT

Published 9:34 am Thursday, January 12, 2017

When the Davie varsity boys basketball team hosted North Davidson on Jan. 3, the season was at a tipping point.

Believing the War Eagles can pull off a major turnaround in the Central Piedmont Conference became a little harder following a 71-70 overtime loss.

Despite being 0-4 in the CPC, the War Eagles are nowhere near terrible. The problem is they keep finding ways to lose the close ones. They’re 0-3 in games decided by four points or less. After dropping nailbiters to Reynolds and Mooresville, the Black Knights took advantage of Cooper Wall’s injury, overcame Heath Slabach’s big-time free throws at the end of regulation and watched the ball bounce their way when Michael Walton’s potential game-winner missed at the final buzzer.

Both teams desperately wanted this one. North (7-6 overall) grabbed its first CPC win in three tries.

“I felt like it was an even game from watching them on tape – and it was,” coach Mike Absher said. “The frustrating thing is we got a lot of things we wanted on offense. We just didn’t convert. As big as Heath’s free throws were, we missed some free throws over the course of the game that were big.”

Davie dug a 25-13 hole before coming up with a 10-0 run that included a Wall 3-pointer, a three-point play by Walton off a backdoor pass from Wall, Owen McCormack’s two free throws and a beautiful pass inside from Wall to Cory Heiner. Later in the second quarter, Heiner had two rebounds and an assist on one possession that ended with a Slabach basket.

Davie opened the third with an 8-1 run that translated into a 39-38 lead. It was ahead 44-41 with 2:24 remaining in the third when Wall got injured on one of his patented jump stops in the lane. He was helped off by the trainer and spent the rest of the game holding an ice pack on his left knee.

Davie came momentarily unhinged, getting outscored 12-4 the rest of the quarter to fall behind 53-48.

But Dylan Shoffner, who was scoreless for three quarters, came up big when it mattered most. His drive cut North’s lead to 53-50. Will Shepherd’s steal and pass led to a Shoffner layup that tied the game at 53. Though Walton’s drive tied the game at 55, North answered with a 3-pointer.

“Shepherd did a good job for those extra minutes he got (in Wall’s absence),” Absher said. “We made another decision and moved Walton outside, and our guys did a good job responding to that switch.”

Davie was behind 60-55 when it mounted another rally. Walton got an and-one. Shoffner’s penetration in the lane was seemingly cut off, but he scored anyway to pull Davie within 61-60.

“Dylan got in the paint twice and was able to finish,” Absher said.

Slabach’s putback cut Davie’s deficit to 63-62. After North hit a free throw, McCormack grabbed an offensive rebound – only to get stripped with 13 seconds to go. North had a chance to put it away at the line, but it missed both free throws and Heiner controlled the rebound.

Trailing by two, the ball rotated from Heiner to Walton to McCormack to Shoffner, who attempted a shot in the paint. It missed and caromed to the left wing. Slabach snatched the loose ball and fired a desperation shot with one foot inside the 3-point arc. A whistle sounded. Slabach had two free throws coming with two-tenths of a second on the clock. He had to make both. He was money, both shots barely touching the rim. It was 64-64 as the teams headed to overtime.

“It was great to see something like that,” Absher said. “To step up there and make two shots like that, that was tough.

“You feel pretty good going to overtime. You’ve got all the momentum and you’re playing at home. We obviously didn’t capitalize on that. Credit to them.”

Energized from the two gigantic free throws, Slabach hit a 12-foot runner to give Davie a 66-64 lead. But after North hit a 3-pointer and two free throws, it was back in front 69-66. Davie missed the front end of a one-and-one, but McCormack’s stickback made it 69-68.

North solved Davie’s trap in the corner and got an open layup. Down three, Walton threw up a deep shot hoping to draw a foul  with nine seconds left – and he did. He converted two of three foul shots to close the gap to 71-70.

North cooperated on the other end, missing two free throws. (The visitors missed four freebies in OT.) With the outcome hanging in the balance, Walton went on the attack, firing an eight-foot one-hander as he faded toward the left baseline. It bounced on the rim twice before falling off.

It was an all-too-familiar sight for the War Eagles, who swept two from North a season ago.

“It’s a simple play that we run,” Absher said. “Whether we were going to be able to reverse and get it to where we wanted to or not in four seconds, we didn’t know. Cory did a great job because the inbounder nine times out of 10 is open, and he got it right back to (Walton).

“It’s gut-wrenching. Our guys played so hard. It’s frustrating. We didn’t play our best ball, but we didn’t play our worst either.”

McCormack led Davie with 17 points, a season high for the sophomore who also yanked down 11 rebounds. After slumping to 6.6 points over six games, Slabach came alive for 15 points. Walton had 14. McCormack, Slabach and Walton combined to hit 14 of 16 free throws. Heiner had nine points and nine boards. Wall, who was leading the team with a 16.3 average, saw the injury limit him to five.

In a home nonconference game the next night, the War Eagles absolutely torched Central Davidson 72-40.

Slabach scored six points and McCormack and Heiner drained 3s as Davie (8-5 overall) bolted to a 12-1 lead in the first. Slabach (10 points by halftime) nearly matched Central by himself in a first half that ended with Davie cruising 32-11.

Slabach went 7 for 7 at the line and finished with 25. It was the seventh 20-point outing of his four-year varsity career. It was a season high but not a career high; he had games of 30 and 39 last year. Sophomore Jacob Hendrix was second with 10. Shepherd had eight, while McCormack and Walton had seven each.

Wall did not play, and his status for the rest of the season was uncertain at the start of the week. Still, Central (3-8 overall) could not prevent Davie’s largest margin of victory since an 86-47 decision over Parkland in 2014-15.

N. Davidson 71, Davie 70 (overtime) – Owen McCormack 17, Heath Slabach 15, Michael Walton 14, Cory Heiner 9, Dylan Shoffner 6, Cooper Wall 5, Coleman Sell 2, Will Shepherd 2.

Davie 72, C. Davidson 40 – Heath Slabach 25, Jacob Hendrix 10, Will Shepherd 8, Owen McCormack 7, Michael Walton 7, Dylan Shoffner 6, Cory Heiner 5, Dejuan Peebles 4.