It took Mount Airy a while to find the “fast forward” button in its 70-60 victory over county rival East Surry on Tuesday night.
The visiting Cardinals decided their best chance to beat the state’s eighth-ranked team was to slow the pace down, which has the tendency to frustrate the high-octane Granite Bears under the best of circumstances, and on an emotionally charged Senior Night, to really get Mount Airy off its game.
“We were being slowed down in the first half, and we weren’t getting the offensive looks that we wanted to,” said Mount Airy coach Levi Goins. “A lot of credit goes to them. They’re a very good defensive team and very well-coached, but that third quarter (when the Bears scored 26 points) was big. We played very fast and finally started knocking down some threes as well.”
East Surry executed its gameplan to perfection in the first half of the game. After the Bears honored seniors Will Sparks, Harrison Joyce and Jackson Smith prior to tip-off, the Cardinals settled into a methodical half-court offense, looking for easy baskets and hoping that their hosts would beat themselves. After four and a half minutes, some inside power by Jefferson Boaz and a 3-pointer from Adam Burke had staked East Surry to a 9-4 advantage. Mount Airy (18-5, 9-2 Northwest 1A) battled back to within 11-10, only to see the Cardinals respond with a 3-pointer from Colby Guy and lead 14-12 after one quarter.
The visitors struck quickly to open the second quarter, with Burke stealing the ball near halfcourt and taking it in for a score and a bonus free throw following a foul. The lead reached 19-12 before Donavon Greene revived the Bears and their partisan crowd with a dunk and a foul, also making his free throw. Mount Airy later took a 24-22 lead on a 3-pointer by Joyce, but the visitors scored the final three points of the first half and led 25-24 at intermission.
East Surry held its last lead when John Marion scored off a fastbreak to give the Cardinals a 29-28 edge with 5:12 left in the third. Sparks hit a three to put the Bears in front. Boaz scored to tie the game at 31, but then Mount Airy went on a 16-5 run over the next 3:15, taking a 47-36 lead on two free throws by Sparks with 68 seconds left in the period. During that time, the Bears got an old-fashioned three-point play and a conventional 3-pointer by Caleb Arrington, and a three-point play from Smith after he took a nifty pass underneath the basket from teammate Gregory Greene. Boaz finally ended the run for the Cardinals, but Arrington shook free at the top of the key right at the third quarter buzzer, and hit a 23-footer that made it 50-38 with a quarter left.
To their credit, the Cardinals didn’t fold, and outscored Mount Airy 9-4 over the first three and a half minutes of the final period to get within 54-47 with 4:39 to play. Quincy Smith got them even closer, at 60-54 on a 3-pointer of his own, but by that time, there was just 2:17 remaining, and the Cardinals were soon forced to foul. In the last minute of the contest, Arrington, Graham and Sparks each converted both ends of one-and-one opportunities, and the Bears secured the victory.
Although he fouled out in the last minutes of the game, Donavon Greene led the Bears with 20 points. Arrington added 14, Sparks 11, Graham 10 and Joyce eight. Boaz led the Cardinals with 15. Smith and Marion added 11 each, and Burke 10.
Mount Airy will travel to Atkins on Friday night having already secured the No. 2 spot in the conference. East Surry will travel to Winston-Salem Prep that evening.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.