After an 84-62 rout of Albemarle in the third round of the NCHSAA 1A state playoffs, the Granite Bears are halfway to a state championship.
To go any farther, Mount Airy will have to take a little revenge tour.
After trailing 18-14 late in the first quarter, the Bears (24-6) went on a 16-0 run that bridged the first and second periods of the game, scored 28 points in a superlative offensive display during the second, and led by as many as 34 points before the visitors narrowed the gap by playing their starters to the end of the game against the Mount Airy reserves.
The win propelled the Bears into the Elite Eight of the 1A boys’ playoffs. To reach the regional round, they will need to win on the road Tuesday night against Avery County, the same team that knocked Mount Airy out a year ago. The Vikings, who won the Western Highlands Conference this season, downed Bishop McGuinness 57-47 on Saturday night to improve to 24-4. Avery is the fourth overall seed in the West, and defeated Uwharrie Charter (73-63) and Hayesville (65-54) in its first two playoff games.
If the Bears beat Avery, a probable fourth meeting with top-ranked Winston-Salem Prep would await in the West final.
As for Saturday’s game, it played out similarly to the Bears’ second-round victory over Pine Lake Prep. Early on, the visitors managed to keep Mount Airy confined in a half-court style of play that the Bears don’t particularly care for. After Noble Washington had scored three points on a basket-and-foul with 36 seconds left in the opening period, the Bulldogs (17-11) had run off nine straight points and led the game 18-14.
The first quarter ended with Gregory Greene driving to the hoop with 19 seconds left and his brother Donavon doing the same to finish off a fastbreak 15 seconds later. It was all even at 18 after one.
There was nothing even about the second quarter.
Caleb Arrington opened it with a 3-pointer 12 seconds in. About a minute later, Harrison Joyce double-pumped in the lane and scored. Then Albemarle missed, and Arrington took it coast-to-coast for two. Albemarle coach Marc Raye called a quick time-out, but his team failed to score and Will Sparks got loose on the break, hit a four-footer in the lane, and drew a foul. His free throw made it 30-18 with 6:04 left in the first half. The score over the previous 2:32 was Mount Airy 16, Albemarle 0.
I thought we were playing a lot of half-court offense, and then we finally got them to play up-and-down, and we finished in transition,” said Mount Airy coach Levi Goins. “They play a lot of zone, and we didn’t want to let them sit back in a half-court defense playing that way.”
The Bulldogs broke the run about a half-minute later on a basket by Jimell Davis, but the Bears were far from done. With 4:22 left in the quarter, Donavon Greene retrieved a loose ball near midcourt and raced toward the basket uncontested, finishing it off with a tomahawk dunk. Mount Airy kept pouring it on, and led 46-27 by the end of the quarter.
If there was any doubt about this one, it ended in the first three minutes of the third quarter, which featured a scoop shot by Donavon Greene, followed by a turnaround jumper and a three from Graham. Finally, at the 5:19 mark, big man Jackson Smith made a steal and brought the ball across midcourt to the 3-point line. When his defender backed off him, confident that the 6’5” center wouldn’t dare shoot from there, Smith did so, and hit nothing but net to make the score 56-29 and force another Bulldog time-out.
Mount Airy led 66-38 after three quarters and was ahead by 34 early in the fourth before clearing the bench.
Sparks led the Bears with 22 points, while Graham added 20. Arrington scored 11, Donavon Greene 10 and Smith seven. For Albemarle, Davis led the way with 15. Washington added 14.