Anytime one of the Forsyth County teams comes to town, you can expect a lot of physical basketball.
Friday night was no exception to the rule, as Mount Airy’s basketball teams each outlasted visiting Atkins, but had to put the game away in the fourth quarter after getting a tussle from the Camels.
In the girls’ game, the Lady Bears (12-1, 5-0 Northwest 1A Conference) took sole possession of first place in the league by outlasting the Lady Camels 63-53 in a battle of the state’s fourth and 10th-ranked 1A teams, according to MaxPreps.com. Mount Airy had a 12-4 lead after a little more than four minutes of play, but could never deliver the knockout blow against Atkins. The Lady Bears led throughout all but the first two minutes of the contest, but never by more than 12 points, and that came near the end of the game.
The boys’ game, in which the Granite Bears were actually a stronger favorite, went much the same way. Mount Airy, the state’s third-ranked 1A team according to MaxPreps, rode a strong performance from sophomore forward Donavon Greene to mostly stay ahead of the Camels (4-11, 1-3 NW1A) until the rest of the team finally broke out of a collective slump late in fourth quarter. Leading just 42-40 with four minutes left in that period, the Bears pulled away in the last 12 minutes and won 72-60.
Mount Airy has the next eight days off and will return to action on Jan. 21 at East Surry.
Mount Airy 63, Atkins 53
The Lady Bears knew coming in how important this game was, as Atkins (11-3, 3-1 NW1A) appears to be the only team in the conference capable of competing with Mount Airy.
“We knew Atkins was very athletic and that (Tyler Davenport) was a great player,” said coach Angela Mayfield. “We wanted to stop her and keep her out of the lane, and we didn’t do a great job of that. We definitely knew this was going to be a test.”
The Lady Camels, who pulled off an upset of the Lady Bears in the Howard Finch gym a year ago, using physical play and officials who would allow it, tried to repeat the formula this time around. Atkins held an early lead, but a little over two minutes into the first quarter, Jo Snow made back-to-back steals near midcourt and converted both into layups, one of them with a bonus free throw along the way. Then Asherah Smith got open from the right baseline for three, and with 4:18 left in the quarter, Mount Airy already led 11-4.
Atkins closed the gap to 17-16 early in the second, only to see a brilliant driving jumper from Shaunae Sawyers and a 3-pointer from Snow push the lead back to six. From there, the teams traded blows down the stretch until Mount Airy carried a 32-25 lead into the break.
“We knew this game was going to be physical and there were some things we were going to have to do,” said Coach Mayfield. “We started off strong, but then had some quick fouls and got into some foul trouble, but we were able to keep our heads and do what we needed to do down the stretch.”
In the third quarter, the Lady Bears got the lead to 44-33 on a 3-pointer with Sawyers at the 3;21 mark, but again Atkins refused to fold, and the teams went to the fourth quarter with the lead still at seven points, 50-43.
If the Lady Camels had hoped to wear down their foes in the final quarter, they were mistaken. In fact, the strongest player in the final period seemed to be Smith, who opened the fourth quarter by taking a charge from Davenport 27 seconds in. When Snow knocked down a long 3-pointer at the other end moments later, what could have been a five-point game was instead a 10-point lead for the Lady Bears. The visitors did make one more run, chopping the lead to six on a free throw by Aniah McManus with 4:17 to play, but when the Lady Camels got the ball back with a chance to cut the gap even more, the defense held and Smith grabbed the first of four defensive rebounds she had in the stretch run. Madeline Mayfield scored a putback at the other end, then Snow knocked down two free throws, and when she hit a 10-footer in the lane with 1:43 to play, the lead was 61-49 and the Lady Bears had secured their victory.
“It seemed like down the stretch tonight, if we needed rebounds, we got them,” Coach Mayfield said. “I told them that is was going to be important that we got in there and got the rebounds, and we stepped up at the end.”
Snow led the Lady Bears with 27 points. Smith had a double-double, with 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Sawyers added eight and Arry Ward seven. Madeline Mayfield, with four, and Sarah Lankford with two rounded out the scoring.
Davenport led the Lady Camels with 26 points. Kayla Chrisp and Kianna Jackson each tallied 10.
Mount Airy 72, Atkins 60
The final score wasn’t really representative of how this game was played for most of the night. The Camels actually held a 19-18 lead after a 3-pointer by Corey Rutherford with 5:19 left before the break. The Bears quickly regained the lead on two free throws by Ryan Graham, but the visitors scored the last six points of the first half and trailed just 29-28 at intermission.
The Camels tied the game at 31 on another 3-pointer by Rutherford. Mount Airy answered with a 9-4 run to lead 40-35, but Tyliq Hairston answered by dialing long distance. An exchange of buckets left the score at 42-40 at the midpoint of the third quarter.
Fortunately for Mount Airy, Greene took over the rest of the period, starting with a dunk at the 3:46 mark. He added a short jumper in the lane, two straight driving layups, and then a fastbreak layup at the third-quarter buzzer off a long pass from Jackson Smith to make it 54-49 headed into the final quarter.
Of the 54 points the Bears had at that point, Greene had 33 of them. He scored 11 in the first quarter, eight in the second, and 14 in the third. He cooled off in the final period, adding just three more on free throws for a game-high 36, but his teammates finally stepped up in the stretch run.
The fourth quarter opened with a 3-pointer by Caleb Arrington. Around the six-minute mark, Smith scored on a layup and then Graham sank two free throws to extend the lead to 61-53, and then two straight defensive stops were followed by two successful Arrington free throws to push the margin to 10. Mount Airy continued to finish the game strong, and when Greene missed a free throw with 2:09 left, Graham was there for the rebound and earned two free throws of his own, making them both for a 70-56 lead, the Bears’ biggest of the game. From there, the teams played out the string.
Graham had 14 points for the Bears (9-4, 4-1 NW1A). He was followed by Will Sparks with nine and Arrington with seven.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.