Hard-luck boys losing tough battles

Published 9:49 am Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Davie varsity boys basketball team doesn’t lack toughness. But its struggles to close out games has not been rectified.

Heath Slabach went off at Alexander Central on Jan. 25. Owen McCormack went off against visiting West Forsyth on Jan. 27. But their outbursts went for naught in two- and six-point losses. The War Eagles buried 23 3-pointers in two games, but had nothing to show for it.

“Our effort was unbelievable,” coach Mike Absher said following a 65-63 loss to Central. “We did all the right things. We just didn’t execute at the end.”

When the first half of the nonconference game against Central ended, Davie was in a 30-20 hole. It would have been a greater deficit without Dylan Shoffner, who scored nine of Davie’s 11 points in the second quarter.

To say Slabach got hot in the third would be an understatement. He took matters into his own hands, scoring 15 third-quarter points on 5-for-5 shooting from 3-point land. McCormack added a pair of 3s, while Shoffner hit two field goals to help Davie pull within 48-46.

“We answered their matchup zone,” Absher said. “We made a little adjustment at halftime and the kids responded.

“(Slabach’s five 3s in the third) were bombs. All of a sudden, we’re like that team we thought we were going to be from a shooting perspective. I mean they had to play man-to-man, which was the best thing that could happen to us.”

Slabach wasn’t done. In the fourth, he converted two more baskets on the way to 23 points. It was his third 20-point game of the season. He nailed half of Davie’s 12 3s. McCormack hit three, Shoffner two and Michael Walton one.

“One was a pull-up that was tough,” Absher said of a Slabach bucket in the fourth. “They were all up in his face now. He put the ball on the floor and pulled up.”

When the War Eagles surged to a six-point lead with four minutes left, they should have been able to engineer the win. But opportunity to move three games over .500 slipped away. First, Davie turned the ball over with the score tied and 30 seconds left. Davie got the ball back with the game tied and 20 seconds left. Another turnover gave Central possession with 12 seconds remaining. Man, does it wish it could have the end of the game back.

Davie had just two team fouls, so Absher ordered his guys to foul Central repeatedly in the final seconds.

“We decided we’re going to foul them four times,” he said.

Slabach tried to foul a Cougar, but he broke away without the sound of a whistle, got into the lane and hit a tiebreaking floater with 1.3 seconds left.

“Their kid very nonchalantly dribbles the ball across halfcourt,” Absher said. “Heath goes after him. He’s almost got him wrapped up. I thought it was either a jump ball, a foul or a travel. No whistle blows. Next thing you know, he gets off of Heath, gets into the paint and shoots a floater.

“We were trying to foul. That’s why Heath went up and grabbed him. We were going to make them take the ball out of bounds three more times. It was under 10 seconds before they ever crossed halfcourt. That was really frustrating. Our plan was, let’s just hammer the heck out of them four times and go to overtime.”

Shoffner had 15 points, McCormack 12 and Cory Heiner six. Central got the final laugh to improve to 12-7 overall. It is 7-2 – for second place – in the North Piedmont 3-A/4-A Conference. It was a feeling of deja vu for the War Eagles (9-8 overall), who were coming off a 59-56 overtime win over Reynolds but fell to 1-5 in games decided by four points or less. It was Central that bounced Davie in the first round of the 2016 state playoffs.

“When you’re trying to get wins and better yourself for the playoffs, that was a tough one to let get away,” he said. “We just needed to take better care of the ball down the stretch. They’re a state-playoff team. Give them credit for pulling it out.”


The Davie-West meeting in Mocksville was a tremendous game. The gritty War Eagles, who lost the matchup in Clemmons by 23, did more than hang with the Titans. They slugged it out and went toe to toe.

But in the end, the heavily-favored Titans (17-2, 6-1 Central Piedmont Conference) squeezed it out, 90-84, handing Davie yet another close-but-no-cigar defeat. West is tied for first in the loss column with Mt. Tabor.

Slabach and McCormack combined for 16 points as Davie stayed within 25-22 in the first quarter. When the first half ended in Clemmons on Dec. 20, Davie trailed by 17. When the first half ended last week, Davie had a 45-42 lead thanks to Walton’s nine-point second quarter.

Davie wouldn’t fold in the third, trailing 64-62 by quarter’s end. In the fourth, Davie continued to make West work for it. But every time Davie made a big shot, West punched back.

Slabach’s 3-pointer cut West’s lead to 66-65. But big man K.J. Henry, the defensive end in football who attracted a visit to the Davie gym from Alabama coach Nick Saban, scored on a putback. Walton scored while getting fouled to cut it to 68-67. But Henry hit two free throws on the other end. After McCormack hit a pair of free throws to make it 70-69, the sophomore snatched back-to-back defensive rebounds. Unfortunately, Davie failed to capitalize on the offensive end.

But moments later, McCormack’s two free throws tied the game at 71. Walton drove the baseline and kicked out to McCormack, whose triple riled the home crowd and pulled Davie within 75-74. But guard Justin McCluney banged a 3 to restore West’s lead to 78-74. Heiner found McCormack for a successful trey to make it 78-77 with 2:20 left. But West answered yet again with a 3 to make it 81-77. That was Davie’s last gasp.

Davie got a lionhearted effort from 6-7 sophomore McCormack, who scored 10 of his 26 points in the fourth. He went 6 for 6 from the line and hit four 3-pointers. He came in with a 10.7 scoring average, and his previous high was 17.

Walton, whose scoring has suffered since he had to replace injured Cooper Wall at point guard and spend so much time running the offense, came through with 17 points, his biggest scoring night in eight games. Slabach, who is averaging 15.5 over seven games, had 15. Shoffner had his third straight double-figure game with 12. Heiner had nine.

Davie buried 11 3s, including three each from Slabach and Shoffner. West countered with 12 triples.

Although this was the most points Davie (9-9, 1-7 CPC) has allowed all season, the War Eagles produced their most points in 25 games.

Davie can’t buy a break in the health department, either. Wall had surgery on the torn ACL in his left knee on Jan. 26. Late in the first half against West, sophomore Coleman Sell, a reserve guard, went down with a sprained ankle and did not return.

Alexander Central 65, Davie 63 – Heath Slabach 23, Dylan Shoffner 15, Owen McCormack 12, Cory Heiner 6, Michael Walton 4, Coleman Sell 3.

W. Forsyth 90, Davie 84 – Owen McCormack 26, Michael Walton 17, Heath Slabach 15, Dylan Shoffner 12, Cory Heiner 9, Coleman Sell 3, Will Shepherd 2.