WINSTON-SALEM — Mount Airy had four opportunities this season to figure out a winning strategy against Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy. Unfortunately for the Bears, sometimes there is no answer to an unstoppable force.
Thursday’s rematch of the Northwest 1A Athletic Conference Championship game saw the Phoenix of Winston-Salem Prep run through the Mount Airy Granite Bears for a 95-58 victory.
The Bears (17-9, 6-4) advanced to the second round of the state playoffs with a 54-51 victory over another conference foe, Bishop McGuinness, on Tuesday. This set up part four of the seemingly never-ending saga between Mount Airy and Prep.
Prep (23-3, 10-0) got a chance to relax in the first round as the top seed in the 1A West Division. Their rest paid dividends, as the Phoenix’s 95 points were the most they’d scored in a game all season. The team’s second-highest total (93) came against Mount Airy on February 16.
Winston-Salem Prep wasted little time in putting points on the board. A pair of 3-pointers from Chaz Gwyn and Corey Rutherford forced a Bear timeout just 65 seconds into the game.
Donavon Greene scored the Bears’ first points with a put-back at 6:15 and another on the ensuing possession. Mount Airy even cut the lead to 11-5 at one point, but then allowed a 9-2 run by the Phoenix over the next three minutes.
Turnovers and defensive rebounding struggles killed the Bears early on. Prep scored most of its’ first quarter points off turnovers or second-chance opportunities. Phoenix forwards Justice Goodloe and Zack Austin were a force to be reckoned with on the glass.
Caleb Arrington and Gregory Greene brought new life to the Bears offense with a 5-0 run following the team’s second timeout of the quarter. Mount Airy cut the lead to 20-12 and traded points with the Phoenix for the rest of the quarter.
It would have been a six-point game going into the second quarter if not for a Gwyn 3-pointer to put Prep up 25-16. Gwyn had 11 points in the first quarter, including three 3-pointers.
A steal and dunk from Daivien Williamson hyped up the home crowd even more to begin the second quarter.
Once again, the Bears refused to quit. Greg Greene knocked down a quick 3-pointer to get back within single digits. Back-to-back buckets by Ryan Graham cut the lead to 29-23.
Any hopes Mount Airy had of taking the lead were squashed when Prep then scored 17 straight to take a 46-25 lead. Even when the Bears shut down one Phoenix scorer, another would take his place. By halftime, seven different Prep players had scored.
A floater from Greg Greene ended the near four-minute scoring drought for the Bears. The shots just weren’t falling for Mount Airy like usual, and the team’s frustration was apparent.
Meanwhile Winston-Salem Prep poured in 31 points in the second quarter, led by NW1A Player of the Year Williamson’s 13.
The Phoenix knocked down seven 3-pointers in just the first half as they led 56-34. For comparison, the Bears only had six 3-pointers in the game.
KJ Watson and Austin didn’t show any signs of fatigue when they scored the first nine points of the third quarter for Prep. Any basket made by Mount Airy was followed up by two Phoenix field goals.
Bear seniors Zach Hall, Arrington, and Graham never let up. Even when shots weren’t falling, the players’ effort remained high in what would be their final high school game.
Another shooting exhibition by Prep amid their 27-point quarter put them ahead 83-48 to start the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter in this case was purely ceremonial. The Phoenix ended the game with a 12-point quarter after scoring at least 25 in each of the previous three.
Prep’s largest lead of the night came with just 1:02 remaining when the Phoenix held a 95-53 advantage.
Arrington scored five points in the final minute to make the final score 95-58.
Williamson led the Phoenix with 23 points in just three quarters, followed by Gwyn with 16, and Watson with 15. Ten different Prep players scored in the win, while five scored in double figures.
Arrington was the Bears’ leading scorer with 20 points, followed by Graham and Greg Greene with 12, and Donavon Greene with eight.
The NCHSAA State Playoffs will feature another match-up of NW1A superteams in the third round, when Winston-Salem Preparatory Academy hosts ninth-seeded South Stokes (20-7, 7-3) on Saturday. The Sauras defeated Nantahala 73-28 in the first round and Hiwassee Dam 77-40 in the second round.
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith