On the right night, Mount Airy’s boys’ basketball team might be able to knock off 1A powerhouse Winston-Salem Prep, but not if they get off to the kind of start they did on Friday night.
The Granite Bears looked like a match for the state’s second-ranked team at times in the Northwest 1A Conference championship game, but a horrible start proved too much to overcome as the Phoenix took an 83-62 victory in the Howard Finch Gym and swept the regular-season and tournament titles once again.
Mount Airy, facing Prep for the third time this season, made a spirited run after digging themselves into an early 22-4 hole. After that disastrous beginning, Mount Airy (21-6) ended the first quarter on a 12-3 run and then continued to take it to the Phoenix in the second quarter, with Donavon Greene finishing a fastbreak a minute in, cutting the lead back to single digits at 27-18. Two possessions later, Caleb Arrington hit a 3-pointer that drew the hosts even closer, at 30-23, and when Ryan Graham made a pair of free throws at the 1:58 mark, the margin was down to five, at 34-29.
It was still that way at halftime, after Gregory Greene tipped in a missed shot just before the halftime buzzer, which left Prep (22-3) on top 36-31 at intermission.
The Phoenix shut Mount Airy down at the start of the third quarter and built the lead back up to a dozen, but the Bears had one last run in them. Arrington hit a 3-pointer with 4:15 left in the quarter to make it 44-37, but that was the last serious challenge that Mount Airy could mount at the Phoenix. For the rest of the third quarter, Prep was able to control the offensive boards, and when Daivien Williamson had an old-fashioned three-point play in the final second of the period, the Phoenix had built the lead back to 15, at 59-44.
The teams played out the string in the fourth quarter with the Bears unable to make another run at it.
Prep started out on fire, and Mount Airy was unable to respond early on. The lead was already at 13-4 when one of the Mount Airy players drew a technical foul and made things worse, and the Phoenix pushed their advantage to 22-4 before the Bears’ shooters finally got untracked. As Mount Airy ended the first quarter on a run of its own, one of the Prep players also earned a technical for too much jawing, and Arrington made both free throws to pull his team within 25-10. The Bears went on to score the last three baskets of the opening period and kept playing well in the second quarter.
Both teams have earned state playoff berths and will likely host first-round state playoff games, but the Bears may be forced on the road by the second round. The Phoenix, which finished as state runners-up a year ago, hopes to do one better this season. The brackets should be announced sometime today.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.