Shazam! Shabazz Disappears as East Thrashes Oak Grove - TribPapers

Shazam! Shabazz Disappears as East Thrashes Oak Grove

Brady Nix is an energetic big playmaker for East Henderson, such as in dashing to try to save possession of the ball. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

East Flat Rock, Fairview – East Henderson chopped down Oak Grove 56-47 and NW Cabarrus 51-48 at home for what are hailed as the program’s first playoff wins and most (24) victories ever.

A.C. Reynolds Rockets (15-12; 8-4 MAC), coached by Ryan Stevens, blasted North Davidson 62-40 at home in a clash of teams with similar records. Round two was on Friday, March 1, as high schools advanced into their version of “March Madness.”

Both regular-season Mountain Athletic Conference co-champions lost openers — T.C. Roberson (16-10; 12-2 MAC) by 97-43 on the road, and MAC tourney winner McDowell (22-5; 12-2) by 62-47 at home.

Roberson’s pressure defense was tenacious against Reynolds in a MAC tournament semifinal, before ACR pulled out a late victory. As head coach Billy Phillips said, “we worked our butts off, and forced turnovers.”

First-round departures were also the fate of Hendersonville (by 69-53) and West Henderson (68-52) boys at home, and North Hendersonville (83-52) on the road.

West Lady Falcons (19-7; 11-1 Mtn. 7) demolished South Point 59-43. Regional top seed ACR Lady Rockets (24-1) obliterated West Charlotte 76-17 at home. McDowell Lady Titans (23-5) also advanced. But MAC female squads from Asheville (by 86-53) and North Buncombe (55-46) lost road openers.

Where Eagles Dare

Coach Marquintus Jones’ East Eagles stymied burly 6-foot-6, 275-pound J.B. Shabazz in the opener, holding him to a mere five points. The bear-sized Grizzly averaged 13 points. “We were physical with him, while fronting him with help behind,” Coach Jones explained. Six-three center Ayden Sumner held his own against much bigger Shabazz.

Offensively, “getting the bigs in ball screen action was crucial,” Jones noted.

East’s most formidable weapon is Caiden Brewer driving to the basket. He scored 24 points, within one of his seasonal average. He dished out seven assists, and snared five rebounds.

Senior wing Brady Nix had a big game with 11 points, three blocks, and six rebounds. Chase Evans contributed eight rebounds and seven points.

The triumph extended East’s unbeaten home mark to 12-0. It also continued momentum that was supercharged when beating North and West Henderson to repeat as the Mountain Seven tournament champion. Brewer scored 25 points in each contest.

This time, East entered the tourney as a regular-season co-champ with West.

They attained the program’s first 20-win season ever. They hosted a state playoff game (let alone a second one) for the first time ever. Crowd support boosts player morale, several Eagle players said. Coach Jones remarked how “our fans are amazing!”

‘Downtown Brown’

Reynolds Rockets are the top 3A seed coming out of the MAC. They won their fifth in a row when they hung in against a fierce rival of their own in Roberson, winning a MAC tourney semifinal 60-58 at home.

Declan Brown scored 22 points in that contest. Like Brewer, he is a junior with explosive scoring stretches. He earned the nickname “Downtown Brown” by sinking several extra-long three-point shots.

Coming through in the clutch “feels great,” Brown said. He is quick to credit teammates. “We have a special group of guys.”

ACR junior center Grant Clayton is strong and nimble, a superb rebounder, and is a scoring threat when zones don’t collapse on him, Coach Stevens said. “He’s a mismatch” for most defenses.

Brown smiled when asked about winning in the final seconds, such as versus Roberson in the MAC tourney. “We’ve expected to do that all season. We practice those pressure situations.”

Coach Stevens talked about team confidence. “When we were down one with 30 seconds left, I felt we’d do it. I told them (huddling during a timeout), ‘We’ll win it!’”

Reynolds won 4A state titles in boys basketball back in 1988, when Ronald Reagan was still president, and in girls’ hoops in 1990 and also in 2000. In 2000, East Henderson Lady Eagles won it all in 3A.