Published 10:13 am Thursday, February 1, 2018
It was a thrill-of-victory/agony-of-defeat week for Davie’s varsity boys basketball team.
When the smoke cleared Friday at Reynolds, Davie and Reynolds were tied for first in the Central Piedmont Conference.
“Two big weeks left (in the regular season),” coach Mike Absher said. “It’s going to be fun.”
Absher was sweating bullets for most of a home game against Reagan on Jan. 25. The War Eagles had been idle for 12 days and played raggedly for three quarters. Then, with all the chips down, they were a delight to watch in a 58-53 comeback win.
A loss to the Raiders (4-12, 1-3 CPC) would have been jarring. Instead of being an upset victim, the War Eagles climbed to 4-0 in league play for the first time in 47 years. They found themselves alone in first thanks to Reynolds’ win over East Forsyth the night before.
Reagan was nipping at Davie’s heels throughout the first half. Michael Walton’s 4-for-7 shooting and nine points and Brooks Johnson’s spark off the bench (3-for-3, eight points) allowed Davie to get to halftime tied at 29.
Reagan had Davie on the ropes in the second half. Sloppy ball handling led to a 48-41 deficit. Before Davie’s final possession of the third quarter, it was an unremarkable 9 for 33 (27 percent) from the floor and Cooper Wall was 0 for 3. But the game changed dramatically after Wall let a two-hand, 75-foot shot fly just before the third-quarter horn. Wall grabbed a defensive rebound, took two dribbles and fired a Hail Mary. It banked in, cutting Davie’s deficit to 48-44 and lighting a fire.
“They came into that huddle a different team,” Absher said. “Good for them to be able to take that energy and channel it in the right direction. In situations (in practice), we play out the clock and that’s part of it. You’ve got to know the clock and just get a shot off. He took an extra dribble, timed it perfectly and let it fly. He’s got a great basketball IQ.”
Davie was suddenly torrid, hitting 8 of 9 shots after Wall’s long heave. After Walton hit two free throws, he made a terrific find as Owen McCormack cut down the lane, and McCormack finished a three-point play at the line to put Davie ahead 49-48. After Walton and McCormack blocked shots at the other end, Wall passed to McCormack for a deep, straightaway 3. It swished for a 52-48 lead. Troy Griggs stole a pass at halfcourt and sped for a layup to complete a 13-0 run that resulted in a 54-48 lead.
It wasn’t over, though. Davie missed an uncontested layup and Reagan buried a 17-footer to make it 54-53. Griggs restored order, driving and scoring over two Raiders for a 56-53 spread. Reagan missed an open 3 at :33 but grabbed the offensive rebound. It missed another clean look from 3-point territory at :28. This time Walton controlled the rebound. Then Walton iced it with two free throws.
“I had so much confidence when Troy turned the corner (on the driving layup),” Absher said. “We tell them to find the rim. I’m looking at him and he’s looking at the rim and boom – he kisses it in there.”
The War Eagles had to beat a sagging Reagan. They did thanks to a fabulous fourth quarter and excellent foul shooting (18 of 22). Walton hit 7 of 8 free throws, McCormack 3 of 4 and Griggs 2 of 2. “We shot the heck out of them this week (in practice),” Absher said.
Walton led the rescue effort with 20 points. McCormack had 12 points, five rebounds and five blocked shots. Wall had eight points and four assists. Johnson had eight points. Griggs had six points, three assists, three boards and three steals. Jacob Hendrix had three points, four boards and two steals. Mason Wilson had one point.
Brandon Hanna put Reagan in position to win with 25 points, but he only managed two in the fourth as the Raiders fell for the fourth straight time.
Does Davie flip the switch and win for the fifth time in six games without Wilson’s contributions off the bench? Although he only scored a point, he inspired a lethargic team with hustle plays – like saving a ball out of bounds and seconds later diving on the floor at the other end of the court.
“We just needed something and credit Mason Wilson,” Absher said. “He gave us huge minutes in the first half, and his energy in the second half was probably the difference in the game. At least three or four times he was on the floor. Even when he missed a layup with less than two minutes left, he was the first guy back (on defense) and he contested a shot (that) they missed. We’re going to need people like that to win these tough conference games.”
This was Davie’s first 4-0 league mark since 1970-71. Those War Eagles got to 4-0 by routing East Rowan 62-42 behind Craig Ward’s 25 points, Paul Beaver’s 13 and Jerry Goodlett’s 10.
Davie and host Reynolds played an all-time classic on Jan. 26. It was entertaining but also gut-wrenching for the War Eagles, who fell in the final seconds, 61-59.
Now Davie (13-5, 4-1) and Reynolds (14-6, 5-1) are tied for first in the loss column, with the Demons avenging a 62-50 loss at Davie on Jan. 5.
“We still control our own destiny and we’ll see what happens,” Absher said.
When Walton buried a go-ahead 3-pointer with 40 seconds left, you could sense this was going to be a magical finish. Walton was going to be the hero with his seventh 20-point game. Hendrix’s five triples were going to be remembered for a long time. You could feel the storybook finish unfolding.
But it wasn’t meant to be. Reynolds scored the last four points to deny Davie a two-game lead in the loss column.
“We were one defensive rebound away from winning the game,” Absher said. “That’s how close it was. We just needed that one loose ball, one defensive rebound.”
Although Davie missed its first seven shots before a Hendrix 3, it closed the first quarter on a 12-3 tear. When Griggs converted an and-one at the line, Davie had an 18-14 lead.
Hendrix’s first two shot attempts were two-point misses. He was superb from that point on, hitting four straight 3s in the first half. Wall handed out five assists in the half, and Griggs’ long 3-pointer at the buzzer pushed Davie to a 34-24 halftime advantage.
When Reynolds opened the fourth with an 8-0 run, Davie was trailing 48-46. But it was a heavyweight fight until the very end. Wall inbounded to Walton in the corner, and his triple cut Reynolds’ lead to 53-52.
Down five, Walton fired an 18-footer from the key. A friendly roll made it 57-54. “That was a play we hadn’t run in a long time,” Absher said.
Walton missed six of his first seven shots. Amazingly, he couldn’t miss after that. After hitting two free throws, he attacked, drew a foul and hit two more to pull Davie within 57-56. Hendrix knocked away a Reynolds pass and Griggs found Walton on the right wing. Walton’s 3-ball with 40 seconds left lifted Davie in front 59-57.
Reynolds scored inside at :30 to tie it at 59. Davie could have held for one shot, but it was called for traveling at :15. Reynolds called time at :10. Ian Henderson went 100 miles an hour along the baseline. Griggs was there but a blocking foul was called with 2.3 seconds remaining. Henderson hit both foul shots to make it 61-59.
The Demons, winners of six straight, celebrated victory in a coin-flip game.
“They haven’t lost (but one) game since we beat them Jan. 5, so they came flying in here,” Absher said. “It looked like two teams playing for first place. Both teams played with a lot of heart.”
Walton finished with 23, a season high for the junior. He went 6 of 6 at the line. In two games, the powerful driver scored 43 points with 13 of 14 foul shooting. Hendrix, who had little impact in the Reagan game, played with poise while scoring 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting, including 5 of 5 from long range. He added five boards, three blocks and drew a charge. McCormack had 10 points, nine boards and five blocks, giving him 10 rejections in two games. Griggs had six points, four rebounds and three assists. Wall had five points and seven assists.
“I like the fact that we battled back from five down late in the game,” Absher said.