Playing against a team that is fighting for its playoff life can be a tough challenge.
The sixth seed Alexander Central Cougars were in that position going into the Northwestern 3A/4A Conference tournament, needing to win three games in order to continue their season.
But the No. 3 seed McDowell Titans faced that challenge head on and willed themselves to a 71-59 win in the quarterfinals Tuesday night at Titan Gym.
While it wasn’t always the most aesthetically pleasing basketball at times, it was still effective in the end. McDowell (20-5), a team who has depended on its perimeter shooting to lead the way, continued to do so as the team made eight 3-pointers on the night.
Senior guard Kevin Silver (4 rebounds, 2 assists) led the way, making six of those eight en route to a game-high 28 points. Silver drained five of his six 3’s in the second half when the team was able to fight off a valiant effort by Alexander Central (8-17), who did a good job in slowing down the tempo in the first half.
But ultimately, the Titans’ firepower took over down the stretch and gave the team separation to advance to tonight’s semifinal against second seed Freedom at Freedom (Thursday, 8:30).
“I thought the effort was really good on our end,” said Titans head coach Brian Franklin. “Alexander does a good job in slowing down the pace of the game with their zone and lowering the number of possessions. It was just that kind of ballgame.
“I thought defensively we played well in the first half with the exception of letting them get some points at the end of the half to keep it at nine points. And I thought all game we moved the ball well offensively. In the first half we had some good shots but didn’t make them. In the third quarter we started hitting some more of those shots. Kevin shot the ball really well for us; it was good to see him get his stroke back.”
Ahead 28-19 at the half, the Titans went on a 17-7 run over a span of four-and-a-half minutes. Silver drained a long-range shot from the right corner at the 3:24 mark, giving McDowell its largest advantage of the night at 45-26.
The Cougars, even down 19, remained feisty after that point, cutting the lead to 13 again by the end of the third.
One last run of 16-8 to begin the fourth put the game away for McDowell. Those points included a trio of 3s by Silver and a free throw by Travis Corpening to give the Titans a 70-49 advantage with less than three minutes to go.
Skyler McKinney finished with another double-double with 13 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. Corpening (6 rebounds, 2 blocks) finished with 12 points to give McDowell three starters in double figures.
Antoine Lindsey (4 rebounds, 3 steals) finished with eight points. Caden Davis (4 rebounds) chipped in six points. Dylan McRary scored three points and Trenton Gragg had one point in the late stages of the game.
McDowell has now reached the 20-win plateau for the second consecutive season for just the third time in school history. The milestone didn’t go unnoticed by Coach Franklin and his staff.
“For all the history of the basketball that’s been played here at this school, to win 20 games on back-to-back seasons is quite an accomplishment for this group of kids,” said Franklin.
All attention will now to tonight’s semifinal matchup with the Patriots. The two teams squared off last week with the Patriots on the better end of a 106-93 shootout in Morganton.
Freedom walloped St Stephens 83-38 on Tuesday night.
Note: The other Titan teams to win 20 or more games in consecutive seasons were the 1995-96 (23-4) and 1996-97 (24-5) teams; and the 2006-07 (24-7) and 2007-08 (24-5) clubs. McDowell was 25-3 last season.
Northwestern 3A/4A Conference basketball 2017-18
Hickory 13-1 22-2
Freedom 12-2 22-2
McDowell 11-3 20-5
Watauga 5-9 11-11
West Caldwell 5-9 11-14
Alexander Central 4-10 8-17
St. Stephens 4-10 11-14
South Caldwell 2-12 3-21
(3) McDowell 71, (6) Alexander Central 59
(1) Hickory 73, (8) South Caldwell 48
(5) West Caldwell 84, (4) Watauga 74
(2) Freedom 83, (7) St. Stephens 38
Hickory vs. W. Caldwell (7 p.m.)
Freedom vs. McDowell (8:30)
Semifinal winners (8 p.m.)