DANBURY — Not once. Not twice. Not three times.
Mount Airy and South Stokes met for the fourth time this season and delivered another instant classic. This time, a spot in the Northwest 1A Athletic Conference Championship game was on the line.
Dunks, physicality, and a comeback were all featured in this barnburner of a game. The only thing missing was a buzzer-beater to send the game to overtime, and even that was just inches away from happening.
When the dust settled, it was the Granite Bears that stood tall with a 77-73 victory. The dynamic duo of Caleb Arrington and Greg Greene combined for 52 points in the Bears’ victory.
South Stokes jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first 1:37 while Mount Airy missed its’ first four shots. Four of those points came from Saura big man Ben Bowen.
A putback from Donavon Greene got the Bears on the board. It was a good night for players named Greene, as Donavon and Greg combined for a total of 33 points and eight in the opening quarter.
Mount Airy moved its offense to the perimeter to counter the forwards of South Stokes. The next three baskets for the Bears were 3-pointers, two from Arrington and one from Alex Hall.
South’s Brady Dudley wasn’t one to be outdone in a 3-point shootout. Dudley matched Arrington’s first triple to put the Sauras back ahead…until Arrington swished another one.
The first quarter ended with Mount Airy up 17-16 after five lead changes in the final three minutes.
Jeremiah Rosser provided a spark off the bench for the Bears and had an immediate impact on the scoreboard. Rosser’s first point of the night was the first of a 9-4 run by Mount Airy.
Rosser and Donavon Greene each recorded a field goal in the second quarter, but it was Greg Greene and Arrington that exploded before halftime. Greg and Arrington scored 17 of the Bears’ 22 second-quarter points.
Meanwhile, the Sauras continued to attack the basket. While Bowen was held to just two points in the quarter, PJ Samuels and Wesley Misenheimer picked up the slack.
Misenheimer’s ability to draw fouls put the Sauras in the bonus with more than four minutes left in the half. Samuels dominated down low with a Tim Duncan-like post offense.
The Bears offense slowed down closer to halftime when both teams were in the bonus. That said, they were still able to hold on to a 39-31 lead heading into the third quarter.
Mount Airy began the third quarter much like the second. Greg Greene nailed his first 3-pointer of the evening just 13 seconds in to start an 11-5 run in the first 3:24 of the half.
Greg Greene had seven of the 11 points on Mount Airy’s run with a 3-pointer, a transition dunk, and a putback of his own shot.
When the Bears led 50-36, the Sauras kept fighting and gradually worked their way back into the game. Both Greg and Donavon Greene were in foul trouble, so Bowen took it on himself to dominate the low block.
Bowen scored the next five points himself and then set up a Dudley 3-pointer to make it a ball game again. Hall and Rosser each added points for the Bears but the momentum had shifted to Sauras.
Down 56-48, South scored six points in the final 1:06 to make it a two-point game heading into the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter started out with Mount Airy putting South Stokes in the bonus. Bowen hit two free throws 13 seconds in to tie the game at 56.
South Stokes’ Tyliq Hairston went coast-to-coast for a layup that gave the Sauras a 60-58 lead at 6:34. This was the Sauras’ first lead since 18-17 in the second quarter.
Donavon Greene put the Bears ahead in a quarter where the lead changed hands six more times. Donavon held Bowen to two points while scoring five in the fourth quarter.
Samuels never shot outside the paint and didn’t need to. The senior controlled the inside, while Dudley and Misenheimer played around the arc. Though not scoring, Bowen’s defensive rebounding led to South getting its largest lead of the half at 68-65.
Two turnovers for South and an and-one from Arrington changed the complexion of the game. Arrington’s free throw and a layup from Donavon Greene put the Bears ahead 70-69.
Intentional fouling led to Mount Airy gaining a 75-69 lead with less than 30 seconds on the clock. An layup from Hairston, which also featured Greg Greene’s fifth foul, brought the Sauras to within four with 15.7 remaining.
Arrington went on to make two more free throws at 12.8 to put Mount Airy up 77-71. With the game seemingly over, South’s Dudley hit a 3-pointer with just 2.8 remaining.
The stars needed to align for South to get another shot at winning, and it just about did. Mount Airy’s inbound with just 2.8 seconds remaining bounced around before it was knocked out of bounds off a Bear. South Stokes had a chance to tie with .8 second on the clock.
South emerged from it’s final timeout with an intricate play to get a shot off in such a short amount of time. The Saura’s best 3-point shooters were covered, but Bowen was left open in the right corner
Bowen got a clean look and the gym held its’ breath as the ball soared to the iron and bounced off, giving the Bears the 77-74 win and sending them to the championship game.
Arrington led the Bears with 30 points, followed by Greg Greene with 22, Donavon Greene with 11, and Rosser with seven.
Four different Sauras scored at least 16 points, led by Dudley’s 19. Bowen finished with 17, Samuels and Misenheimer each had 16, and Hairston had six.
The Bears will face Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy in the NW1A Championship game on Friday at 8 p.m. at North Stokes High School.
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith