Storybook season ends in Sweet 16

Published 10:45 am Thursday, March 7, 2019

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Losing in March is never easy. You’ve worked months to get here and nobody’s ready to stop. But 46 playoff qualifiers must.

The Davie boys basketball team’s historic season came to an end in the Sweet 16, or third round, on March 2, when Myers Parks rallied to a 74-65 win on Davie’s home floor.

These War Eagles were supposed to give us something to talk about this winter – and they did. Boy, did they ever.

They went 24-3 to break the school record for wins. They opened 10-0. They won two of three against Reynolds, which reached the Elite 8. They went 10-0 in the Central Piedmont 4-A to claim their first regular-season championship since 1970. They celebrated the fifth 20-win season in Davie’s 63-year history. They ripped off the longest winning streak (13) in 19 years. They went 10-0 in games decided by six points or less. And they reached the Sweet 16 for the first time in seven years.

All three losses were to strong opponents. Northwest Guilford finished 18-8, losing 63-52 to Myers Park in the first round. Reynolds (21-6) was still alive on Tuesday night.

“Boom and your season ends,” coach Mike Absher said. “There was a lot of emotion, a lot of tears in that locker room. I told them: ‘I wish I could take the hurt away.’ A couple weeks from now, we’ll sit there and go: ‘Wow, what a great season.’ It was a bunch of guys who bought in and played for each other.”

The fourth-seeded War Eagles and No. 12 Mustangs met on Saturday night in a packed Davie gym. The War Eagles got off to a splendid start, leading 16-13 after the first quarter thanks to Michael Walton’s nine points and pushing the lead to 21-14 in the second.

“We got off to a really good start,” Absher said. “Our game plan was great and guys were really executing it.”

But that’s when the War Eagles lost their mojo. Myers Park’s 18-8 run to close the half lifted it to a 32-29 halftime lead.

Owen McCormack banged a 3-pointer on the first possession of the third to tie the score at 32. Davie had the game where it wanted it at that point. Yet, it lost its grip and suffered through a scoring drought of six-plus minutes. Not only were the War Eagles missing one open look after another, they went 11 of 20 at the free-throw line.

“We had some great looks,” Absher said. “That’s how it goes sometimes. We missed shots that we typically make. We got exactly what we wanted. But give credit to Myers Park. They made some tough shots.”

Despite trailing 59-43 and 65-51 with four minutes left, the War Eagles showed grit and made a push. Jacob Hendrix’s triple capped a 12-4 run that chopped the deficit to 69-63 with 40 seconds remaining.

“Was there a lot of concern? Absolutely,” Myers Park coach Scott Taylor told the Winston-Salem Journal. “We knew at some point that some of their shots would start to fall. The way they kept changing defenses made it difficult for us to get into the lane like we wanted. Fortunately for us, we were able to get a couple of stops when we really needed it.”

Down by six, all hope vanished when Davie missed three straight free throws and failed to score on the ensuing possession.

“We could have done a better job rebounding on the defensive end, and we usually shoot better,” Absher said. “But even with all of that, I love the way our guys competed until the very end.”

The Mustangs used five double-figure scorers to improve to 22-8. Their star attraction was Drake Maye, the brother of UNC senior Luke Maye. The 6-5 sophomore had 16 points. On Tuesday they faced Reynolds in the Elite 8 – after the Demons stunned No. 1 North Meck 98-96 in overtime in the third round.

Walton paced Davie with 19 points, hitting 6 of 8 free throws. Troy Griggs and Hendrix, who made three 3s, had 16 each. Brooks Johnson and McCormack had seven apiece.

This loss is going to sting for a while, but the massive season will be remembered for a long, long time. Walton goes down as the No. 7 career scorer with 1,174 points. McCormack finished with 938 points. If he hadn’t missed four full games and most of another with an ankle injury, he would have likely become the 12th member of the 1,000-point club. Four seniors averaged double-figure points: McCormack 13.6, Walton 13, Hendrix 12.5 and Griggs 10.5. The other seniors were Latham Chamberlain and Ronald Wilson.

And what about the long and winding road to 24-3. Davie went from 4-21 to 7-16 to 14-12 to 11-13 to 18-9 to the winningest season ever.

“People don’t remember where we came from,” Absher said. “The support from the Davie Crazies and the community was absolutely awesome. What a great atmosphere we had at our home games. You work the whole offseason to walk into gyms that packed.”