Boys let big game slip away

Published 9:33 am Thursday, February 15, 2018

When the riveting game ended, Davie’s varsity basketball team was absolutely distraught. When the biggest game of the season ended, the East Forsyth Eagles pumped fists, bumped chests and coaches hugged. You don’t need to know anything more about the white-knuckler that took place in Davie’s gym on Feb. 6.

In a mad scramble for first place in the final week of the regular season, East (17-5, 8-1 Central Piedmont Conference) escaped 54-53 to nail down at least a share of first place. It was a deflating loss for the War Eagles, who could have remained in position for their first regular-season title since 1970. But when Davie’s shot at the final horn missed, it dropped to third at 6-3 in the CPC. Reynolds, which defeated Glenn 61-45 on the same night, improved to 7-2.

“It’s big for our program,” East coach Mike Muse told the Winston-Salem Journal. “It’s something that we aimed to do at the beginning of the year. I can’t say enough about these eight seniors we’ve got, how hard they’ve worked and how unselfish they’ve been.”

“I told the guys to play hard tonight, and man they did,” Davie coach Mike Absher said. “They left it out there. We’re one possession from having a chance to play for the conference championship (three days later at Reagan).”

Davie rode Owen McCormack’s masterful performance (23 game-high points on 10-of-17 shooting and eight rebounds) to the doorstep of victory. He put on a clinic in the first quarter, scoring 13 points on an assortment of shots and lifting Davie to a 16-15 lead.

“Obviously, we’re a 3-point shooting team, but that’s what we have to do to be able to advance and win big games,” Absher said. “We’ve got to get it in there to him where he can be a dominating factor.”

The first half ended with the War Eagles in front 27-26, but they absorbed a roundhouse right at the outset of the third. A third-chance conversion sparked a 13-2 run for the Eagles, who got four of the points off Davie turnovers. When they finished a fast break, it was 39-29.

Davie answered with fury. Jacob Hendrix’s pass inside to McCormack ignited a 12-2 run for the War Eagles. McCormack accounted for six of the 12. Brooks Johnson got a steal, sped down and converted a tough layup amid two defenders. Then reserve Justice Redmon got a steal around halfcourt and pitched ahead to Griggs, who tied the game at 41 early in the fourth.

When an and-one triggered a 7-0 spurt for the visitors, Davie was behind the eight ball again at 48-41. The War Eagles could have wilted right there, but they didn’t. Cooper Wall, scoreless through three quarters, came alive when Davie absolutely needed it, scoring eight points during a 10-0 run. When his defender fell, Wall banged a 3-pointer. Wall’s steal resulted in a race to the other end, a hard foul and two free throws. Wall hit both. After McCormack drained a game-tying 16-footer and East was whistled for traveling, Troy Griggs found Wall for another 3. Davie was ahead 51-48 and the gym was rocking.

“It was a great game,” Muse said. “Two really good teams, and we were fortunate enough to come out on the winning end of it.”

East scored, but Michael Walton answered with a driving layup as Davie beat East’s fullcourt trap. Down 53-50, East’s Shemar Watkins (team-high 19 points) missed two free throws and Walton rebounded.

From there, however, Davie would miss four straight shots, while East stole the game with big execution at money time. Davie missed a 3-pointer with 1:55 to go, and seven seconds later East was scoring off an offensive rebound to make it 53-52.

After 12 Davie passes, Griggs misfired in the lane but managed to corral his own rebound with a minute on the clock. After making 10 passes and burning 21 seconds off the clock, Davie missed another 3. Hendrix grabbed the rebound, but an official ruled the shot went over the backboard, giving East the ball at :36.

“I thought initially he said it hit the wire,” Absher said of the over-the-backboard call. “I guess he said it went out of bounds. The sad part is we rebounded that ball and all we had to do was dribble it back out and we’re still in control of the game. It’s tough.”

East put the ball in Watkins’ hands 20 feet out on the left wing and let him go to work in a one-on-one situation. Walton did all he could to disrupt his rhythm, but Watkins made a tough kiss off the glass, atoning for his missed free throws, sucking the air out of the gym and giving opportunistic East the 54-53 lead at :17.

“(Watkins) doesn’t give up and he was getting to the rim,” Muse said. “He could have made a couple more and they just didn’t fall. He made the one that he had to make.”

Following a timeout, Davie had to go 94 feet. McCormack inbounded to Griggs. The ball went back to McCormack, then to Wall to McCormack to Wall and finally to Griggs, who crossed halfcourt with nine seconds left. Griggs penetrated and bounced a pass to a posted-up McCormack. The ball was knocked away but Griggs quickly recovered and dished to Wall on the right baseline. Wall had a decent look but he was offbalance and falling away. The shot fell short and the horn sounded.

“We had plenty of time,” Absher said. “We knew they were going to press us. We talked about what our options were, depending on what they did at the other end. Obviously, we were trying to get the ball to Owen. The ball got deflected and kicked around. Good job by Troy to at least get to the rim and Coop got a look at it, too.”

This was McCormack’s third 20-point outburst. He was two from his season high. Wall had eight, Griggs seven and Walton five. Elijah Wood and Hendrix had three each. Johnson and Redmon had two apiece. Griggs had five assists. Davie shot 57 percent on two-pointers (16 of 28) and 25 percent from 3-point territory (5 of 20).

“Owen played really well,” Absher said. “That was big confidence for us early in the game. That’s what we’ve got to do moving forward.”

While East celebrated its fifth straight win, and its second win over Davie in seven days, the War Eagles slipped to 15-7 with their third loss in five games. Falling short in the regular-season race will sting for a while, but Davie can make amends in the CPC Tournament and state playoffs.

“There’s still a lot on the line,” Absher said. “Every game counts when you talk about seeding for the playoffs. We’ve got to gut it out. We’ve got to be super tough (against North Davidson and Reagan). We’ve got to dig down deep inside. It’s going to be a tough turnaround, but I love those guys and I think they’ll be ready.”


Technically speaking, there wasn’t a lot to be gained or lost by Davie’s nonconference game against visiting North Davidson on Feb. 7. But there was pride.

The War Eagles were tired of losing close games to North. Last year North beat Davie 71-70 in overtime and 65-63. North’s third straight win in the series was 62-60 in Welcome on Jan. 10.

But there was very little chance the War Eagles were letting North beat them again, especially on Senior Night for Wall, Broc Barnette and Mason Wilson. They shook off a slow start and smashed North 74-57.

Davie overcame electric guard Themus Fulks, who scored 11 of his 31 points in the first quarter, when North jumped to an 8-0 lead. After the deficit became 11-2, Davie closed the half on a blistering 31-12 run. A 19-11 Davie run in the third was highlighted by Walton’s baseline drive and one-handed dunk.

McCormack (15 points), Hendrix (15 points, six rebounds, four blocks, two steals), Walton (13 points, six rebounds, four assists) and Griggs (12 points) paced the revenge win. Hendrix made 7 of 11 field goals, while Griggs converted 4 of 6 shots. Johnson contributed eight points and four assists. Wall had four points and Redmon three. Wilson and Latham Chamberlain had two each.


When Davie closed the regular season at Reagan on Feb. 9, the outcome was hanging in the balance at the end of the third, with Davie nursing a 43-40 lead. Might the War Eagles enter the CPC Tournament having dropped two straight league games? Nah. They found a killer instinct in the fourth and brushed the Raiders aside, 55-46.

On the same night, East Forsyth edged Reynolds 65-64 as Savon Brintley hit two free throws with three seconds left to give East the regular-season championship outright.

East went 9-1 in the CPC. Reynolds and Davie tied for second at 7-3. Reagan was 4-6, West Forsyth 3-7 and Glenn 0-10. After finishing third, seventh, seventh, tied for fourth and tied for sixth the past five years, the War Eagles made a tremendous jump in 2017-18. This was their best CPC finish in six years, going back to a tie for second in 2011-12. Reynolds did earn the No. 2 seed for the tournament virtue of its split with East.

“I couldn’t be prouder of them,” Absher said. “After such a touch loss (to East), to play as well as we did (against North and Reagan) speaks volumes about the toughness they have. That’s a great finish for us and a great place to be in the conference. At 7-3, we were right in the hunt.”

The War Eagles survived a tough battle in the first meeting – using a 17-5 run to erase a 48-41 deficit and win 58-53 on Jan. 25 – and this one was tight most of the way. Johnson and Hendrix combined for four 3s in the first quarter, which ended with Davie ahead 15-13. Walton’s nine-point second allowed Davie to take a 29-26 lead to the half. Hendrix’s two 3s and Wall’s five points helped Davie stay in front in the third, 43-40.

Davie finally pulled away in the fourth. After going scoreless for three quarters, Griggs did all his scoring (six) when Davie needed it most.

“We did a great job of managing the clock, and did a great job on the defensive end and rebounding-wise,” Absher said. “We really finished the game strong.”

Hendrix was the star with 19 points. He nailed five triples as Davie shot a sizzling 11-for-22 from 3.

“Jacob got off to a great start,” he said. “He obviously shot the ball well, but he was really good defensively and he was on the glass, too. It was a good all-around game for him.”

Walton had 12, Johnson eight and Wall and Griggs six each. Davie improved to 17-7 overall even though McCormack (four) was nine below his average.

“One of our trademarks has been when certain guys didn’t score a ton of points, we’re balanced enough to have different guys pick us up,” Absher said.