Boys rally, stay perfect

Published 2:44 pm Tuesday, December 12, 2023

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By Brian Pitts

Enterprise Record

Down by 14 in the fourth quarter, it was like the Davie varsity boys basketball team was just waiting for the moment when it absolutely had to turn it on. In a game they easily could have lost, the War Eagles rallied for a 62-53 home win over Alexander Central on Dec. 8.

Earlier in the week, they raced past North Davidson. The wins kept Davie perfect at 5-0.

Davie 72, ND 58

When Davie and North Davidson met in Welcome a week earlier, there were 14 lead changes and the War Eagles trailed in the fourth before they fought back for a 76-72 win.

In the rematch in Mocksville on Dec. 5, Davie ripped through the Black Knights.

“I think (the keys to the decisive win were) being locked in on defense and being patient on offense and sharing the ball,” coach Josh Pittman said.

Pittman has the pieces, has plenty of depth, but you never know from game to game how the pieces will fit. The tone-setters in this one were two reserves – Ethan Driver and Elliott Erlandsson.

Davie was behind 5-2 before it stormed to a 28-8 lead. Driver and Erlandsson were everywhere during that flurry.

Driver, who played a starring role for varsity football as a sophomore, showed out on the court for the first time. He had 11 of his team-high 16 points in the decisive first half. He simply couldn’t miss, going 6 of 7 overall from the floor and 4 of 5 from 3-point range.

Driver was averaging 2.3 before this explosion.

“He’s been poking at it for a while,” Pittman said. “He’s been practicing hard. Coming off football, he really didn’t have his rhythm yet, but Ethan is a dog. When Ethan and Braddock (Coleman) are locked in defensively, that’s one of our better defensive units. I watched Ethan all summer before he banged up his back. I think he can play defense and offense. He’s got good hands, and I think he can really contribute to this team.”

Erlandsson was electric in his first non-starting game of the year. He had a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds) on 6-of-10 shooting. He eclipsed his previous varsity high (10 points in a game last year) in the first half, when he had 11 and helped Davie build a 38-17 cushion.

“Elliott came off the bench with a spark,” Pittman said. “We wanted to match up with the guards, and I thought (bringing him off the bench) helped us out a lot because when we played over there, their guards were a lot the way they were moving and penetrating and kicking.”

The War Eagles put up 18 more shots than North in the first half because they destroyed the visitors on the boards. Jackson Powers had eight points, nine rebounds and two blocks. Coleman Lawhon had six points, five assists and three steals. Bryson Mickey had five points and three assists. Davie had 11 scorers in all, including Gavin Williams (nine), Landon Waller (four), Coleman (three), Adam Brown (two), Landon King (two) and Ethan Ratledge (two).

Davie 62, AC 53

In the first half on Dec. 8, the War Eagles attempted 13 3s and clanged 10. In the third quarter, they missed nine of 11 field goals. By contrast, visiting Alexander Central was shooting well over 50 percent for three quarters.

When the third ended, Davie was staring at a 47-33 deficit that felt larger than that because of the Cougars’ personality. They are patient offensively. They don’t take bad shots. They don’t turn it over. (They would finish the night with five turnovers.)

Even with Central’s slow pace, Davie somehow managed to pull a Houdini and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Pittman said: “I told them: ‘We’re gonna have to figure out a way to sit down and play defense. We’ve got to stop worrying about offense. The offense will come, but we’ve got to stop somebody.’ We cut it to nine or 10, they called timeout and I said we’ve got to pick up fullcourt man, something I’ve never seen a Davie team do. I said: ‘Before it gets to five minutes left in the game, we have to have their lead right around the five-point mark. If we can do that, that’s going to put enough pressure on them to probably get us back in this game.’ I think it was 5:38 when we cut it to four. I said: ‘We’ve got to roll up our sleeves, we have to communicate, and we have to turn them on defense.’”

Davie started well enough. Williams, Mickey and Powers sparked the home team to a 10-4 lead, but Central answered with an 11-0 spree.

“We did not pay attention to anything I put on the board, and we paid the price for it (for three quarters),” Pittman said. “I put on the board: Their first play in every game is an old-school backdoor play. They did it the first play of the game and I looked at (assistant) Will Tibbs and said we’re gonna be in for it tonight because I knew we did not pay attention to what was on the board.”

Ratledge got an and-one and Brown banged a 3 to give Davie a 22-17 advantage, but Central ended the half with a 13-3 run and carried a 30-25 lead to halftime. Early in the third, Williams sank a pair of 3s to pull Davie within 32-31, but Central scored 15 of the last 17 points in the quarter to take the 47-33 lead.

“I thought it might just be one of those nights where it’s not clicking for us,” Pittman said. “We were settling way too much for 3s. I told them the 3s will be there in transition or we have to penetrate and kick to make the zone move. They are good at playing the zone. I mean, the zone is played through their whole program – JV girls, JV boys, varsity girls, varsity boys. So they are good at the zone. We shot way too many 3s in the first half. Teams play zone because they want you to shoot contested 3s, and we fell right into it. We fell in love with it.”

And then: “They have two legit, solid bigs. They’ve got decent guards and everybody else plays their role. Up 20 or down 20, they’re always going to play the same way. It was a good test for us because they are a legit team; they play team basketball. They don’t have one guy that goes berserk, but No. 30 (6-5 senior Chad Lasher) is a player.”

The remarkable rally started with Powers’ offensive rebound/tip-in. Ratledge hit a 3. Lawhon corralled a defensive board, pushed the ball and buried a mid-range jumper. Ratledge scored as he was fouled. After Mickey stole a pass, Lawhon scored as he was fouled. Ratledge passed inside to Powers, who scored. When Powers hit two free throws, it was suddenly 49-49.

Ratledge proved his mettle, finishing with 15 points and four rebounds on 5-of-6 shooting from the floor and 4-for-4 foul shooting.

Pittman: “I told Ratledge: ‘You’ve got to tame that live dog. You’ve got to front the post, be physical with him, don’t let him get it and do the best you can.’ And he did a heck of a job in the fourth quarter.”

Powers (13 points, 10 rebounds) delivered his third double-double as he converted 6 of 8 foul shots.

Pittman: “I told Jackson: ‘You keep picking and popping on the zone. If we’re going to be successful, you have to get to the block.’ He got to the block in the fourth quarter and got himself to the free-throw line.”

The spectacular stretch kept snowballing on the Cougars. When Lawhon’s 3 provided a 52-49 lead, it was Davie’s first lead since 22-20. Central made it 52-51, but Powers converted both at the line, Mickey scored through contact, Lawhon assisted a Ratledge basket and Driver got a steal, drew a foul and hit both to make it 60-51.

Davie had reeled off a 27-4 run.

After shooting 11 of 36, including 5-21 from 3, through the first three quarters, the War Eagles went a sizzling 9 of 11 in the fourth. They also went 9 of 11 from the line in the fourth. Lawhon had 10 points, seven assists and five boards. Mickey had seven points and four assists. The other points came from Williams (10), Brown (three), Driver (two) and Erlandsson (two). Driver added three steals and two blocks, and Erlandsson contributed four boards and two rejections.

“We had to keep searching until we found a lineup that was going to listen and start getting downhill and penetrate and kick,” Pittman said. “When we penetrate and kick in practice, we probably shoot 50 percent from 3 because we practice it every single day. The catch-and-shoot 3s, that’s not really us unless we’ve got somebody that’s hot in that moment.”

Notes: Central slipped to 3-4. … The Cougars shot 48 percent (20-41) from the floor. … Pittman will continue to write the game plan on the board. “I’ve been preaching that since last year.” With a chuckle, he added: “I’m hoping it will sink in one of these years.” … The build-up has begun for Friday’s Central Piedmont Conference opener. It should be a great environment in the Davie gym for East Forsyth. It will be the first of many prove-it games in the fierce league. Davie will try to snap a six-game losing streak in the series, including losses by 10 and by one in overtime last year. “People are already whispering, people are already chatting and saying we haven’t played anybody,” Pittman said. “They’re saying once we get to conference, we will start losing. This is a game to help define your program – East Forsyth at home on a Friday night. If it’s in God’s plans, we will go into that game 6-0 and we’ve got them at home in the first conference game. Those are the type of things that define your program. (If Davie wins), then people will leave and say: ‘OK, this team is for real.’”