MORGANTON – Coming off a pair of disappointing losses on the first two days of the Freedom Christmas Invitational, the McDowell Titans found themselves in a difficult spot on Day 3.
McDowell was up against the East Burke Cavaliers, a team the Titans had already beaten twice this season, and this was, after all, the consolation bracket. In short, this one had the makings of a disaster.
Consider the disaster averted.
The Titans (5-4) used a strong, second-half showing to bury the Cavaliers 64-49 and avoid a last-place finish in the annual holiday event. McDowell led by just one at the half, but never trailed in a second half that saw the Titans outscore East Burke 33-19.
It was an unspectacular, workmanlike win, but Titans head coach Brian Franklin said he was happy with how hard his team played in a tough situation.
“That was the thing I was most pleased with today,” said Franklin. “After a tough, overtime loss (to eventual tournament finalist Draughn) the first day, and having to come back after the way we played yesterday (75-45 loss to Asheville Christian Academy), you worry about what your team is going to do, and you worry about playing at 1 o’clock.
“But I thought our kids played as hard as they could play.”
The Titans got double-figure scoring from three players and used a 19-5 spurt in the third and fourth quarters to put some distance between themselves and the Cavaliers.
Despite being saddled with foul trouble, McDowell post Trent Lewis led the way with 18 points and 10 rebounds to go with two steals and a blocked shot. Senior guard Dylan McRary (4 rebounds, 2 steals) added 15 points and junior Qualique Garner (8 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals) tossed in 14.
Reserves Andruw Randolph and Dequan Boyce added a spark off the bench, with each player scoring six points and pulling four boards.
“On the defensive end, we were getting our hands on some loose balls and causing some turnovers, and guys were flying around, so I was happy to see that,” said Franklin. “I thought the three guys we count on to score did a good job of putting it in the hole when they needed to; Dylan and Q and Trent inside.”
“Andruw Randolph came in and did some good things for us, and I thought Dequan did some good things.”
Still, it was a dogfight early on, with three ties and a dozen lead changes in the first half. Garner’s basket off an assist by J.C. Olivo (5 assists) put the Titans up 31-30 at the break.
Much of the third period was tight as well, with McDowell holding a slim, 39-38 advantage with less than a minute to go in the quarter.
But McRary scored on a pull-up jumper and Garner beat the buzzer with a driving layup to stretch the lead to 43-38 headed into the fourth.
The Titans opened the final stanza with three straight baskets off aggressive dribble-drives, two by McRary and another by Olivo, and extended the advantage to 49-38 at the 5:15 mark.
East Burke never recovered, and McDowell’s lead reached as many as 15 points twice later in the fourth, the last time at 59-44 on McRary’s bucket off a Garner assist with 2:42 to play.
Trey Ward (8 rebounds) and Logan Shuford scored 14 apiece to lead East Burke, which shot just 33 percent (18 of 54) from the field.
The Titans missed a ton of easy looks in the paint and didn’t shoot much better, coming in at 36 percent. But McDowell out-rebounded the Cavs 42-33 overall and 18-10 offensively. The Titans also turned it over just 14 times compared to 20 for East Burke, and didn’t give it away once in the fourth quarter.
Lewis (7 offensive rebounds) scored 10 in the opening quarter as the Titans pumped the ball into the post early on. But the sophomore picked up his third foul less than a minute into the second half.
“We did a much better job than we did early on in the year as far as looking for him and getting it into him inside,” said Franklin. “He just has to continue to keep improving as a post player and finding new ways to score.”
McDowell has a brief respite before beginning Northwestern 3A/4A Conference play on the road at Hickory Wednesday night. St. Stephens visits Titan Gym next Friday.
“That was big for us to get that win,” said Franklin. “Coming down here and losing three in a row would have been a hard pill to swallow. It kind of took the air out of us on that first day after we fought back and gave ourselves a really good chance, and after what happened to us yesterday, I think a lot of people would have been looking at that game and thinking this was a prime time for us to have a letdown, but they handled it like men and they grew up some. They wanted to play and get after it, and I was proud of them for that. Hopefully we learned some things this week that will help us in conference play.”
East Burke (49) Aaron Morrison 2-10 0-0 4, Bryce Brittain 1-4 2-3 4, Austin Teague 1-3 0-0 2, Logan Shuford 5-13 1-2 14, Camdyn Propst 2-8 1-2 5, Luke Coble 2-5 0-0 6, Trey Ward 5-8 2-4 14, Gavin Cox 0-1 0-0 0, Aasin Lor 0-2 0-2 0, Brett Childers 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 18-54 6-13 49.
McDowell (64) Qualique Garner 6-14 0-0 14, Adam Randolph 0-1 0-0 0, Trent Lewis 5-16 8-12 18, Dylan McRary 6-14 2-2 15, J.C. Olivo 2-8 0-0 4, Dequan Boyce 2-7 2-2 6, Andruw Randolph 3-3 0-0 6, Johnathan Ramirez 0-1 0-2 0, Tyler Rector 0-0 0-0 0, Jalen Robbins 0-1 0-0 0, Dylan Aldridge 0-1 0-0 0, Seth Harrison 0-0 1-2 1. Totals: 24-66 13-20 64.
East Burke 16 14 08 11 – 49
McDowell 17 14 12 21 – 64
Rebounds: EB (33) MHS (42) Rebound leaders: EB (Ward 8) MHS (Lewis 10, Ad. Randolph 9, Garner 8) 3-point goals: EB (7-28) MHS (3-17) EB (Morrison 0-5, Coble 2-4, Brittain 0-3, Teague 0-2, Ward 2-3, Cox, Lor 0-1, Shuford 3-9) MHS (Olivo 0-5, McRary 1-5, Garner 2-4, Boyce, Robbins, Aldridge 0-1) McDowell assist leaders: (Olivo 5) McDowell steals leaders: (Garner, Ad. Randolph 3) McDowell blocked shot leaders: (Lewis 1) Turnovers: EB (20) MHS (14)