ELKIN - Heading into Tuesday’s marquee matchup with Mountain Valley Conference preseason favorite Wilkes Central, the Buckin’ Elks received some help from The Winston-Salem Journal.
The Journal ran a story Tuesday claiming the Eagles were the team to beat and that the rest of the league was a “big question mark.”
After seeing the piece, Elkin head coach Kenneth Abrams read the article in the locker room to fire up his team before the biggest conference game of the season.
“I’m going to say this the way it is,” Abrams explained. “I picked up The Winston-Salem Journal this morning. There was an article in there about Wilkes Central being the best team in the Mountain Valley Conference. I’m not saying they’re not, but even a couple of our coaches said they don’t think anyone can stop them. Well, I read the article to my team.
“And then tonight before the game started, a Wilkes Central fan told me ‘I bet we’ll beat you by 20 points.’ I went and told my team that if that’s not enough to piss you off, I don’t know what is. That fired them up,” he added.
A determined Elks squad came out on fire and grabbed a 13-9 lead at the end of the first quarter, led by seven early points by Frank Miller.
After the lead swelled to six points at 17-11 early in the second, a deep Eagles side made a run. Central battled back and took a 21-19 lead on back-to-back threes.
Two-straight Chris Hudspeth buckets gave Elkin a 25-23 in the final seconds of the half before a three-point play gave the Eagles a 26-25 advantage at the break.
The teams traded baskets in the third quarter as both teams answered each score. After the Elks took a 37-35 lead on a Trey King steal and layup, Central scored the final four points of the frame to take a 39-37 advantage to the fourth.
The Eagles drilled a trey to extend their lead out to 42-39 with 5:45 left to play before Elkin started its clinching run.
After a King layup cut the lead to one, Hudspeth passed the ball to himself off the backboard on a drive to the hoop and laid it back up to give the Elks a 43-42 lead and jump-started a 22-9 burst to close out the game.
Five-straight fast-break points - highlighted by an ‘and-1’ by Miller - pushed the advantage out to 50-42. From there, Elkin started to knock down its free throws.
The Elks converted 14-of-18 shots from the charity stripe in the final 2:25 of the game, including 8-of-10 from Sam Lane, to seal the 61-51 statement win for Elkin.
“We played good defensive team basketball tonight and we controlled the second half,” Abrams explained. “We didn’t do a good job in the first half, but we controlled the second half on the defensive side. We started rebounding and playing defense and we started scoring a ton of layups. We played real good inside and had a lot of fast break points because they were pressing and we got behind their press. And we started making free throws.
“Kids played well tonight. I’m proud of them. They played great team ball and we got a great team effort. And that’s a good ball team, a well-coached ball team. We’re just happy to bring winning basketball back to Elkin,” he added.
King poured in a team-high 16 points on the night, while Lane added 15. Miller finished with 11 points with Hudspeth tacking on eight. Kody King and Jamiles Hayes added six and five points, respectively.
With the win, the Elks improve to 6-3 on the season and remain perfect in conference play at 3-0. And while the win made a statement to The Journal and the rest of the league, Abrams said it was more of a statement to his team.
“To me it is a belief statement,” he said. “I always preach to my kids to believe in the system. It’s not fancy, it’s just basic. I told them that if you start believing in your system, then other teams are going to have problems. Because if I have a strong belief, I’m going to test you.
“They’re believing in it. We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there,” Abrams added.
Abrams and the Elks will get back to work at practice before hosting rival Starmount (0-4, 0-2) in basketball’s rendition of the Battle of the Bridge tonight.
“You know what the toughest thing now? You have to practice harder. In order to keep winning, you have to practice hard,” he said.
Reach Matthew Gorry at 835-1513 or firstname.lastname@example.org.