Following Mount Airy’s 65-46 victory over Pine Lake Prep in the second round of the NCHSAA 1A state playoffs Thursday night, Granite Bears head coach Levi Goins praised the support that his team has received from the community all season.
And now the hometown heroes will play one more time this season in the Granite City.
Just after the final buzzer sounded, the announcer told the audience that in another playoff game being contested at the same time in Bryson City, Albemarle had upset Swain County, the No. 2 overall seed in the West, meaning that the Bulldogs will advance to Saturday’s third round action — in Mount Airy’s own Howard Finch Gym.
Albemarle (17-10) was the third-place team in the Uwharrie Athletic Conference this season and the 17th overall seed in the West. The Bulldogs defeated Bessemer City 75-70 in the first round before downing Swain 58-50 on Thursday.
“Coming in as the 11 seed, you never know what you will get in terms of home (playoff) games,” said Goins. “This is a great community, and they support us very well, and it’s really nice to have another home game.”
As for the task at hand, the Bears came out playing excellent defense from the get-go, and after Caleb Arrington knocked down a 3-pointer about three minutes into the contest for a 7-5 lead, Pine Lake (15-12) never led again. That three sparked an 11-1 run for Mount Airy that included multiple big plays from sophomore Donavon Greene, who played the sheriff in the paint all night for his team. With 3:37 left in the opening period, Greene leaped into the air to reject a close-in shot by the Pride, igniting a fastbreak that turned into two points for Will Sparks and an 11-5 lead. The Bears built the lead to 11 at one point and were up 16-8 at the end of the quarter.
Mount Airy continued to be in the ascendant as the second quarter got under way, but was still not clicking on all cylinders until Goins called a time-out with his team on top 22-13 with 5:17 left in the first half.
“I thought we were not taking advantage of some opportunities we had on the offensive end,” said Goins. “I thought we needed to really push the tempo as much as possible.”
After the break in the action, the Bears began to dominate. Jackson Smith got inside for two after a missed shot, and then Ryan Graham threw an alley-oop pass to Greene for a thunderous slam that forced Pride coach Steve Treffiletti to spend a time-out of his own. However, this didn’t slow down the Bears. Greene got fouled on the inside and made two free throws. Then Smith made one of two, and drove to the basket for two on his next trip down. When Arrington dialed long distance with 94 seconds left before the break, it was 34-15, and the home team carried a 17-point advantage into the locker room.
“We were very motivated tonight. This team is getting it at the right time,” Goins said. “We had a great practice last night, our best practice of the season, and that mind-set carried over to today.
The Bears blew it wide open as soon as the third quarter began. Graham started the blitz with a three off the left wing. Then Greene got inside for two before Graham went coast-to-coast after a Pine Lake miss. He assisted on the next basket for Greene, and the Bears were in command with a 45-19 lead. They extended the lead to as many as 31 late in the third quarter before Goins began clearing his bench.
Donavon Greene led the Bears with 21 points, although he exited the contest with about 10 minutes remaining. Graham added 14, Gregory Greene nine, Arrington six, with Smith and Harrison Joyce each picking up five. For Pine Lake Prep, Jojo Castronovo was virtually a one-man band, scoring 25 points.
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