Davie wins The Moir

Published 9:13 am Thursday, January 3, 2019

SALISBURY – Davie’s boys basketball team passed its biggest test of the season in the Sam Moir Christmas Classic championship game at Catawba on Dec. 30, leading virtually all the way in a 59-47 victory over Salisbury.

It was Davie’s first Moir title since 2012 and Mike Absher’s fourth in his 17 years as coach. Six years ago, the War Eagles of Caleb Martin (18.1 ppg), Cody Martin (14.8), Austin Hatfield (13.9), Taylor Hatfield (9.3) and Kenyon Tatum (8) whipped North Rowan 71-46. That was the springboard for a conference tournament championship and a 21-6 season.

Maybe Saturday’s triumph over No. 3 Salisbury, which knocked off No. 2 North Rowan 59-54 in the semifinals, will serve as the launching pad moment for these War Eagles, who are 9-0 for the first time in eight years.

“We had to make sure we closed it out,” senior Michael Walton told the Salisbury Post. “I started thinking back to when Davie won this six years ago when the (Martin) twins were here. I was a little kid, but I was so impressed. I knew I wanted to win this myself someday.”

“This is the culmination of a lot of hard work,” Absher said. “Some of these guys will move on and play college basketball, and that’ll be great. But I told them today, there’s nothing more fun than winning something for your school and your community. And boy, they did it today.”

There was no 3-point monsoon like the one fans saw in the semifinals, when Davie drilled 10 of its 12 triples in the first half against North Stanly. The Hornets (7-3) hung around most of the game, but in the end, there was too much Davie experience, too much poise from seniors Owen McCormack, Walton, Jacob Hendrix and Troy Griggs.

“They beat us with backdoor plays and all that little stuff they do,” Salisbury coach Bryan Withers told the Post. “That comes with experience. That comes with playing together for a while and understanding each other.”

The War Eagles came out hot. Griggs opened the scoring with a drive to the basket. Hendrix blocked two shots in one defensive possession. McCormack posted up for two. Walton cut to the basket, received a dish from Griggs and finished with the left hand. When Hendrix drove for a bucket, Withers called timeout at the 3:31 mark of the first quarter, his young team down 8-0.

The stoppage did not change the flow. Alex Ratledge and Walton executed a backdoor play beautifully, with Walton finishing. After reserve Zach Smith swatted a shot, Walton fed McCormack for a 3-ball. It was 13-2.

Brooks Johnson’s triple made it 18-0, but the Hornets showed grit, their 14-2 run vaulting them to a 24-20 lead. The final moments of the first half were symbolic of the way Davie handled Salisbury’s runs.

Walton passed to Johnson, who nailed a 3. McCormack flashed inside and Hendrix found him for a 27-24 halftime lead.

“I was really proud of how we closed the half,” Absher said. “That was big. From a confidence perspective, that helped going into the second half.”

In the second half, Salisbury would put together mini-runs to stay alive. Griggs blew by everybody on a fast break and scored, then assisted a McCormack 3 as Davie assumed a 32-24 lead.

Salisbury fought back within 38-36, thanks largely to reserve guard Jacquez Smith, who made four of his six 3-pointers in the fourth and finished with a team-high 18 points. Davie responded with the knockout blow, a 12-5 run. McCormack scored inside; McCormack got a kick-out pass from Johnson and popped a 3; and Justice Redmon got a steal and passed to Johnson, who found Hendrix in the corner, the 3 splashing and bringing the orange-clad fans to their feet.

Walton went one-on-one, slicing inside the foul circle, twisting in the air and sinking a 12-footer for a 50-41 lead. Hendrix supplied the exclamation mark, cutting along the baseline and throwing down a dunk.

“Basically I was trying to go inside and get fouled,” Walton said of his offbalance bucket. “But as I was falling I moved my body into a shooting position and got the shot off.”

McCormack: “Just a weird shot.”

Absher: “Michael is a great athlete. That was a tough, tough shot, and he’s someone who can make those.”

McCormack was stellar all three days, scoring 18 points to go with seven rebounds and four assists. He made 7 of 10 shots, including 3 of 5 3s, and took home the tournament MVP award. Walton had 12 points and four boards. Hendrix got hot late to finish with 11 points, four boards, three blocks and two assists. Griggs had seven points and three assists. Johnson had six points, five boards and two assists.

Hendrix was among six on the all-tournament team. Griggs, the ball-handling wizard, received the Ronz Award for sportsmanship, which honors the memory of Ronnie Gallagher. Smith swatted two shots.

The unsung hero was Redmon, the quick reserve who keyed the 1-3-1 zone in the second half. What a time for the junior to come up with his best line: five points on 2-3 shooting, three steals, two rebounds and one assist.

“This is a really difficult tournament to win,” Absher said. “It may have looked easy, but it wasn’t. By the third day, fatigue is definitely a factor. You’re playing on a bigger court and the start times are all over the place. I think, more than anything, it takes toughness.”

Notes: Davie hit 7 of 10 shots in the first quarter and 21-43 for the game. It was 6-15 from 3-point territory, including 5-7 in the second half. … Absher’s first two Moir titles came in ‘03 and ‘04.