MORGANTON – In Wednesday afternoon’s opener at the Freedom Christmas Invitational, the McDowell Titans looked a lot stronger toward the finish line than they did coming out of the gate.
The Titans drained a total of 11 3-pointers and mixed it in with solid play inside. All of that came together, especially in the fourth quarter, to dispose of Wilkes Central 80-66 to advance to Thursday’s semifinals (results were not available at press time) against R-S Central.
The tourney championship is Friday at 8:30. A semifinal loss would land McDowell in the third-place game at 5:30 Friday.
A total of four players scored in double figures for McDowell (9-1), a squad that has now won seven consecutive ball games on the season.
For three quarters it wasn’t easy for the Titans as they battled a testy Wilkes Central (6-4) team.
McDowell was up 34-20 midway through the second quarter and was in a position to expand that lead, but the Eagles used quick 11-2 run toward the end of the half to keep within shouting distance, going into the break at 40-31.
The lead even got shorter for the Titans after three quarter at 53-47. But in the fourth McDowell eliminated any thought of a first-day upset with an impressive 22-1 run during a span of four-and-a-half minutes, putting the Eagles to rest.
“I thought we came out a little slow at the beginning, but starting there late in the third quarter and into the fourth quarter, we played some great basketball, played with a lot of intensity,” said McDowell coach Brian Franklin. “We made some of the shots during that span that we didn’t earlier.”
The fourth quarter all started with an offensive rebound and put-back by Caden Davis on the opening possession. Then, after a turnover, Dylan McRary drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key, getting the Titan back in double figures for good at 58-47.
But that was only the beginning. Skyler McKinney then made it 61-47 when he drained a deep three-ball at the 7:10 mark off a McRary assist.
The rest of the decisive run including eight points in the paint by Travis Corpening, a 3-pointer by Kevin Silver and then another basket by McRary. The bucket by the junior made it 75-47 with just over three minutes left, ending the night for the main contributors on the court.
McRary (5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals) had a big game, scoring a career-high 21 points, with 14 of them in the first half. McRary’s production was especially important in that he stepped in during the first quarter after starting guard Antoine Lindsey left the game with a possible concussion after falling to the floor on a fast break layup attempt. Lindsey’s status was unknown as of press time.
“We hate to lose Antoine there early in the game; he’s been a big part of what we do,” said Franklin. “But Dylan really stepped up and made some big shots for us early and that got him going for the game. Dylan has also been playing better and making big shots as a whole the last few games and we’re going to need that from him.”
Silver (5 assists, 3 rebounds, 1 steal) finished with 19 points. Corpening (7 rebounds, 3 steals) netted 17 points and McKinney (12 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks, 2 steals) continues his phenomenal play, recording a double-double.
Davis (9 rebounds) finished with four points. Nick Grande had three points. Lindsey, along with Adam Randolph, chipped in two points each and Jordan Kehler scored two points.
Noah Johnson scored 19 points to lead Wilkes Central.