Boys clinch first title since’70

Published 10:40 am Thursday, February 14, 2019

This is really happening.

Davie’s boys basketball team has won the regular-season championship for the first time in 49 years. Davie has reached 20 Ws for the fifth time in its 63-year history. At 20-1, Davie has equaled the greatest 21-game record in history. Davie has locked up first place in the Central Piedmont Conference with two games to spare.

“It’s hard to express what this means,” 17th-year coach Mike Absher said. “After (Friday’s game at Glenn), I usually don’t have a problem finding words and what to say, but that was special. They really played together.”

The War Eagles toppled West Forsyth and Glenn last week without leading scorer/rebounder Owen McCormack, who left early in the West game with a sprained ankle. Against West, Michael Walton played hero with 31 career-high points. At Glenn on Feb. 8, it was Jacob Hendrix’s turn to do the honors. He poured in a career-high 26.

At the end of the third quarter, McCormack had zero points, of course, because he was in street clothes. The No. 2 scorer, Walton, had one point. Yet Davie held a six-point lead. That’s perseverance. That’s a team with a lot of answers.

“If you’d told me going into the fourth quarter that your top two scorers would have one point between them and we would be ahead … that was amazing,” Absher said. “It shows how everybody stepped up. It’s just amazing.”

For the second time in four days, Davie navigated choppy waters, beating Glenn 61-55. While the Bobcats slipped to 10-9, 3-5 with their third loss in a row, the War Eagles improved to 20-1, 8-0 with their 10th straight win, the second such streak of this extraordinary season.

When Davie beat Glenn 67-50 in January, Walton played a starring role with 20 points. Walton was limited to six this time, but teammates Hendrix, Brooks Johnson and Troy Griggs compensated for his off night.

Five different War Eagles scored as Davie burst to a 13-7 lead in the first quarter. Glenn countered in the second to force a tie at 24 at halftime. Hendrix’s eight points in the second prevented Davie from falling behind.

Hendrix had eight more in the third, when Davie went on a 13-3 run to erase a 28-24 deficit and take a 37-31 lead. When Glenn scored the first four points of the third, Absher called timeout.

“We had no rhythm on offense,” he said. “We started out really well offensively, but we got out of the flow. But once we got the lead, we held on to it throughout the fourth.”

Glenn, though, did threaten deep into the fourth, its 5-0 run shaving Davie’s lead to 51-49 with a shade over a minute remaining. Johnson and Davie staved off the hosts by hitting 14 of 16 free throws in the fourth. After missing seven of 10 foul shots in the first half, Davie went 21 of 24 from the stripe in the second half, a performance that Absher considered “phenomenal.”

The superstar in this game was Hendrix, who nailed four 3-pointers and went 6 of 9 at the line. His previous career high was 22 last year as a junior.

“If you hold McCormack or Walton down, then there’s Hendrix making shots,” Absher said. “If you hold those three guys down, then Griggs or Johnson step up and make shots. We’ve had so many people that could potentially score. It makes you hard to defend.”

Johnson came in averaging eight points but only 2.3 over his last three games. His fingerprints were all over this one. He scored a season-high 15 for the third time this year and hit 6 of 6 free throws.

But even when Johnson’s not scoring, the junior wing is always willing to adapt for the good of the team. Griggs, who made 6 of 6 free throws to score 10, is always eager to contribute any way he can.

“Sometimes people don’t see all the things that Brooks does for us,” Absher said. “He’s become a really good defensive player. Man, he’s rebounded really hard for two years. Fans remember who is making the shots. He’d been off a little bit. He got sick and he hadn’t quite gotten back in the groove. Tonight he was huge. He finished in transition and he made big free throws coming down the stretch.”

The best Reynolds (6-2) can do is tie Davie for first, but Davie holds the tiebreaker virtue of its sweep over the Demons. The War Eagles captured the CPC Tournament in 2012 and 2013, but this is their first regular-season title since 1970. This is the best start since the 1969 team was 20-1 before finishing 20-3. The other 20-win seasons: 20-3 in 1969 under Bob Henry, 21-6 in 2000 under Jim Young, 23-7 in 2012 and 21-6 in 2013. Absher has guided three of those five squads.

In the regular season, Davie settled for runner-up in 1988, 2005, 2011, 2012 and 2018.

“That’s great,” Absher said of the regular-season crown. “But hopefully we’ve got some more good things ahead of us.”

Notes: Walton moved to seventh on the career scoring list with 1,098 points. … James Reid had three points and Zach Smith one. … McCormack could be back soon. Then again, with the No. 1 seed wrapped up, Absher could hold him out until next week’s CPC Tournament. “Owen’s getting better each day, which is exciting,” he said. “The great thing about him, he’s a very disciplined kid. He’ll work hard and do exactly what the trainers tell him to do. Two weeks is the time frame.”