Reynolds boys basketball resets MAC championship race with win vs Enka
CANDLER — After almost every one of Enka's 31 makes Tuesday, Reynolds forward Asher Cunningham made his way under the basket to handle the inbound against the press.
On at least half of those, the ball went right back to him, putting it in the Rockets captain's hands in the center of the court, where he could survey the floor, drive or pass as needed while the Jets tried to shift back into position.
After some occasional first-quarter struggles, Cunningham and the Rockets broke the press with ease for most of the game, making Enka pay for its aggression and spoiling its perfect conference record with a 92-70 win that puts the teams even atop the MAC standings with a couple of weeks left in the regular season.
"When we got it past that first wave of their press, we attacked it," Reynolds coach Ryan Stevens said. "We did a much better job this time at having a guy in the middle, that middle presence. When you get the ball in the middle against a press, good things happen. We had the right guy in the middle."
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Following his team's 64-53 win over the Rockets in December, Jets coach Brian Carver expressed relief that they had played each other so early in the season, while the defending conference champions were still getting their feet under themselves, especially football players such as Cunningham.
By Tuesday, with the gridiron long since disappeared in the rear-view mirror, Reynolds' advantages in depth and size had grown even larger — magnified by the absence of Jacob Tiller, who's no longer on the Enka roster due to a violation of team rules.
"They played like the defending champions tonight," Carver said. "They wanted to throw their name in the hat. … They were the more aggressive team on both ends of the floor."
Cunningham's return from the frightening head injury he suffered against Roberson 11 days ago gave Stevens and the Rockets (10-8, 6-1) a clear plan of attack against the Jets (16-3, 7-1). Hot shooting from guard Logan Crook (28 points, 10 rebounds) while Reynolds settled into the game created a back-and-forth affair early, but the visitors pulled away for a 42-37 lead at halftime and never looked back.
The Rockets created easy buckets against the press throughout the second half, with their defensive depth allowing them to stay fresher than Enka. Their superior size led to a 45-24 rebounding disparity and made finishing inside a significant struggle for the Jets, who converted just 32.2% of their 2-point attempts.
"We've just got that dog in us, and they don't," Cunningham said. "They're soft. They're just little and scrawny. We just hit the boards real hard and owned the rebounds."
Enka trailed by as many as 21 in the fourth quarter, its third loss of the season and first conference defeat in nearly a year coming in relatively lopsided fashion.
Should both teams win out, they'll share the conference championship. But this MAC season has been defined by tight games between teams no matter where they fall in the standings, making that far from a guarantee — and making Tuesday's emphatic result particularly impressive for the Rockets.
"We'll celebrate that this evening, but we've got to get over it," Stevens said. "We can celebrate all that stuff when the season's over."
ACR: 24 - 18 - 27 - 23 — 92
Enka: 22 - 15 - 16 - 17 — 70
Reynolds: DaShawn Stone (20 points, 5 rebounds), Jayden Harper (15 points, 8 assists), Declan Brown (15 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists), Kaelen Gilliland (14 points), Grant Clayton (12 points, 8 rebounds), Cunningham (6 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists)
Enka: Crook (28 points, 10 rebounds, 4 steals), Jacob Adair (12 points, 5 steals, 5 assists), Jarrett Goodson (12 points), Sam Waddell (11 points, 6 rebounds), Parker Roberts (4 points), Matt Rogers (2 points, 7 assists)
This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Reynolds basketball beats Enka High School, resets MAC title race