RONDA - The Buckin’ Elks head into the new year in unfamiliar territory - atop the Mountain Valley Conference.
Elkin cemented itself on top of the conference standings with a resounding 67-50 victory Friday night over rival East Wilkes in the Battle of the County Line.
“We started off slow and I think it was more being nervous with it being a rivalry between us. Once we got into our transition game - that’s our strength - we opened it up a little bit,” Elkin head coach Kenneth Abrams explained. “I’ll be honest, we’re playing good basketball right now. We have to keep them focused and continue to run. When we’re not running, we struggle a little bit. Once our transition game kicked in, we pretty much took control.”
In the frantic opening minutes of the game that had a playoff-like atmosphere, neither team was able to find their rhythm. McKinley Johnson finally connected at the 5:45 mark for the first points of the contest.
Elkin responded and used a 9-3 run in the final four minutes of the quarter to grab a 13-9 advantage and never looked back.
The Elks pushed the lead out to double-digits on a Kody King ‘and-1’ early in the frame and led by as much as 13 in the first half.
Sam Lane drained a three at the halftime buzzer as Elkin took a convincing 32-18 advantage in the locker room on the road in a hostile environment.
Coming out of the break, Frank Miller stole the inbounds pass and laid it back up just four seconds into the third as the Elks pushed their lead out to 20 just a minute into the half.
Elkin’s full-court press caused the Cardinals fits throughout the game but keyed the game-clinching run in the third quarter.
“It all starts with the press,” Abrams explained. “That’s something we work on everyday, but we still don’t have it down to perfection yet. I’m of course never going to be happy with it, but that’s just a coaching thing. The press has gotten us to where we are now because we’re so quick up front.”
The Elks kept their second-half advantage in double-digits, cruising to their seventh-straight victory with a comfortable 67-50 triumph.
“Good team effort tonight. That’s what we strive for because we played good team basketball. We could care less who scores as long as we all play together,” Abrams added.
Lane powered Elkin with a game-high 22 points on the night, while Miller finished with 14. Jamiles Hayes added 10 points with King tacking on seven.
Avery Wallis led the Cardinals with 18 points in the game (13 in the second half), while Chandler Bare and Johnson added 13 and 11 points, respectively.
Elkin closes out its 2012 slate at 8-3 on the the season and 5-0 in conference play and sit atop the league standings. While the Elks will be taking a break during the Christmas holiday, Abrams said his team is enjoying the success but is remaining focused.
“It’s been awhile [since Elkin has been in first play heading into the new year],” he explained. “It’s a fun locker room right now. But we look at it one game at a time; we’re not over-looking anyone. You won’t believe but I have to chew their butt before every ballgame. Kids are going to be kids.
“Seven wins are great and that’s momentum. That’s momentum in the locker room, momentum on the bus and momentum at school. When you have kids fired up like that, your chances of winning are better. We’re going to try and continue that,” Abrams added.
With the loss Friday night, East Wilkes fell to 3-6 overall and 2-2 in the MVAC.
While the Elks will rest during the holidays, the Cardinals will be playing in the CFE Shootout at East Surry High School this week.
East opens tournament play Thursday against North Stokes at 4 p.m. before taking on host East Surry Friday night at 7 p.m.
Reach Matthew Gorry at 835-1513 or firstname.lastname@example.org.