ASHEVILLE – It takes guts to beat a good team three times in a season, especially when the first two wins were nail-biters.
The McDowell Titans have some guts.
Eight-ranked McDowell (23-2) overcame a fourth-quarter deficit to edge the A.C. Reynolds Rockets 72-66 in the semifinals of the Mountain Athletic 4A/3A Conference tournament Wednesday at Enka High.
The Rockets (10-16) took the Titans down to the wire in the two previous meetings between the clubs this season, and Game 3 held true to form; it wasn’t decided until the final seconds.
The top-seeded Titans advance to the championship game against Erwin tonight (Friday, 8 p.m. start).
“I was worried about this game,” said McDowell head coach Brian Franklin. “It was eight days since our last game, and I think in some of the things we were doing, you could see that. We weren’t real fluid at times, and we weren’t as sharp as we were the last few weeks of the season.
“There were a lot of things that went against us toward the end of that game, but our guys found a way to fight through it and make some huge plays down the stretch to finish it.”
The Titans got big contributions from all over the court and needed every one of them, especially in the contentious fourth quarter that featured 10 lead changes and three ties, and saw each club slapped with a technical during a span of only 18 seconds of game time.
Skyler McKinney led the way with 17 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and three steals. Point guard Kevin Silver (4 assists, 4-of-8 3-pointers) poured in 15 points and made a pair of clutch free throws to seal it with 10 seconds left.
Divese Carson (7 rebounds) and Tanner Dillingham (7 rebounds, 3 blocks) tossed in 13 apiece and guard Antoine Lindsey added 10 before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.
Reynolds led 67-65 when the second of the two technical fouls helped turn the tide McDowell’s way. Kaedin Robinson (19 points, 8 rebounds) was called for a walk and subsequently drew a technical. Carson made one of two shots to trim the deficit to 67-66.
On the ensuing possession, Dillingham pulled an offensive rebound, and a goaltending call on his put-back attempt gave the Titans a 68-67 lead with 1:05 to go.
Robinson then misfired on a 3-pointer. Carson grabbed the rebound and was fouled, making both shots for a 70-67 lead with 51 ticks remaining.
Robinson made one of two foul shots to get the Rockets within 70-68 at the 31-second mark.
But McDowell played keep-away in the frontcourt until the Rockets finally tracked down Silver and fouled him with 10.2 seconds to play. Silver buried both shots, and that was the game.
Afterward, Franklin had high praise for the Rockets.
“I think Reynolds is the most talented team we’ve played in our league,” he said. “Their record is not indicative of the kind of team they have, partially because they played such a lights-out, non-conference schedule, and they didn’t get their football players until late.”
The Titans scored the game’s first 10 points and led 20-14 after one quarter and 39-33 at the half.
But the Rockets quickly closed the gap early in the third, thanks in part to some magic from their scorekeeper, who produced two Reynolds points out of thin air in the opening minute of the half.
Reynolds took a 53-52 lead into the fourth quarter, setting the stage for the see-saw battle that ensued.
Post Max Hurst (10 rebounds) joined Robinson in double figures with 14 for the Rockets. Isaiah Pruett added 13.
A.C. Reynolds (66) Kaelin Robinson 7-18 2-4 19, Keyal Talbert 2-2 0-0 5, Isaiah Pruett 4-11 4-7 13, Trae Kanupp 1-6 2-2 4, Max Hurst 5-17 4-5 14, Kejuan Watkins 2-4 0-0 6, Jace Dover 1-2 0-0 2, Jalen Crowder 1-1 0-0 3. Totals: 23-61 12-18 66.
McDowell (72) Divese Carson 4-9 4-6 13, Cannon Lamb 1-3 2-2 4, Tanner Dillingham 4-7 5-6 13, Skyler McKinney 5-11 7-12 17, Kevin Silver 4-9 3-3 15, Antoine Lindsey 3-4 3-5 10, Travis Corpening 0-2 0-0 0. Totals: 20-45 24-34 72.
Reynolds 14 19 18 15 – 66
McDowell 20 19 13 20 – 72
Rebounds: ACR (32) McDowell (32) Rebound leaders: ACR (Hurst 10) McDowell (McKinney 10, Carson, Dillingham 7) 3-point goals: ACR (8-15) McDowell (6-15) ACR (Robinson 3-6, Talbert, Crowder 1-1, Pruett 1-3, Watkins 2-4) McDowell (Silver 4-8, Carson 1-4, Dillingham 0-2, Lindsey 1-1) McDowell assist leaders: (Silver, McKinney 4) McDowell steals leaders: (McKinney 3) McDowell blocked shot leaders: (Dillingham 3) Turnovers: ACR (8) McDowell (11) Fouled out: McDowell (Lindsey :31—fourth) Technical fouls: ACR (Robinson) McDowell (Lamb)