Let no one accuse the Mount Airy boys basketball team of playing a cupcake schedule.
One night after opening their season by playing, and beating, the state’s 11th-ranked 3A team, the Granite Bears upped the ante and played host to 4A Panther Creek High School, a member of the Triangle-4 4A Conference of Raleigh-area schools, led by 6’8” junior forward Justin McKoy, a bona fide Division I prospect.
McKoy torched the Bears for 29 points and led his team to a 72-62 road victory, but the Bears might have had a chance to overcome that if they had played better in the first four and a half minutes of the contest. The Catamounts (6-2) dominated the start of the game and led 13-0 by the time Donavon Greene finally put the Bears on the board with a layin at the 3:24 mark of the first quarter.
“Getting down 13 to a good basketball team is not going to cut it,” said Mount Airy coach Levi Goins. “We have to do a better job of being mentally prepared.”
Once the Bears settled in, they were able to hold their own with Panther Creek and made an impressive run in the third quarter, twice getting within four points of the visitors. However, an injury to Greene, the only Mount Airy player with the size and strength to challenge McKoy, doomed the comeback, and the Catamounts led by as many as 20 points in the final stanza.
The game itself was an unusual intersectional matchup between a 1A school and a 4A school separated by 127 miles. The matchup came about when the Bears had an opening on their schedule and were looking for an opponent to fill it. Panther Creek head coach Shawan Robinson, an old friend of Goins’, stepped in to help.
“He and I used to play against each other quite a bit in AAU basketball, and we’ve been in contact over the years,” said Goins. “We had an opening and they were gracious enough to come up and play us.”
Mount Airy’s athletic department even threw in a bonus for the Catamounts for making the two and a half hour bus ride. Right before the team boarded the bus to head back to the Triangle, a delivery of several hot pizzas was delivered to the team.
Even though they came up short on the scoreboard, Goins was happy to get the chance to play another high-caliber opponent as the team gets ready to defend its title in the Frank Spencer Holiday Classic after Christmas, and take on Winston-Salem Prep in conference play after the new year.
They probably won’t see another player like McKoy, though.
“He’s already got a Division I body, he’s smart, he can knock down shots, he passes it well and his size is something we haven’t seen in a while,” said Goins. “He’s a very, very good basketball player.”
After Greene got the Bears on the board, McKoy hit a 3-pointer at the other end to make it 16-2 in favor of the visitors. Mount Airy (1-1) was unable to get closer than 10 points at any time in the remainder of the first half, and it took a 3-pointer from Caleb Arrington at the first-half buzzer to keep the Bears within 15, at 35-20.
The lead was still at 15 points when the Catamounts’ Jackson Reid knocked down one of his five treys at the 5:45 mark of the third quarter to make the score 40-25. At this point, the Bears made their move, getting two straight baskets to slice the gap down to 11. Then Gregory Greene scored back-to-back hoops and it was 44-33. With 3:04 left in the quarter, Arrington stole the ball and hit Ryan Graham with a long pass for a layup that whittled the lead down to single digits for the first time since it was 9-0. With 1:47 left in the quarter, Arrington hit a three from the right wing to make it 47-40, and following a defensive stop by the Bears, did it again to make it 47-43 with about a minute and a half left in the quarter. Reid hit another three at the end of the quarter to put the Cats up 52-45 with the fourth quarter yet to be played.
The game was decided when Donavon Greene went down with a sprained ankle with seven minutes to play. The younger Greene wasn’t seriously hurt and will be fine when the Bears play North Surry on Tuesday, but he couldn’t return against Panther Creek.
“We made a good run in the third, but then Donavon went down with the ankle sprain,” Goins said.
With Greene out of the game, McKoy ran wild, scoring eight more points on two baskets and four made free throws before Robinson pulled his star player out of the game.
Three players did almost all of the damage for the Catamounts. In addition to McKoy’s 29, Reid had 17 and Michael Bramwell had a dozen.
Arrington did the most damage for the home team, scoring 24 points that included four 3-pointers. Graham added 12 and Donavon Greene had 10 before he had to leave the game. Gregory Greene, with nine, was the only other Bear with more than three points.
The Bears will travel to county rival North Surry on Tuesday night. Both the boys and the girls will be playing in that contest.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.