South Stokes boys’ basketball team started the season with nine wins, but had dropped back-to-back games entering the 43rd Frank Spencer Holiday Classic last week. The number seven seeded Sauras fell to Mount Tabor 73-55 in the Myers Tire (championship) bracket on Tuesday, but bounced back against conference foe Mount Airy on Wednesday with a 64-55 victory and a 55-53 win versus North Forsyth on Thursday, revenging their two earlier losses. South finished the tournament in fifth place with senior Ben Bowen scoring his 1,000th career point against the Bears.
“We didn’t play very well to start,” said Saura coach Jason Clark. “We played very soft and scared against Mount Tabor. They were more physical than us and wanted it more. I was very happy with the way we responded the last two games and got wins against Mount Airy and North Forsyth.”
Against the Spartans, the Sauras were outscored 20-4 in the first quarter on some very hot shooting by the tournament’s second seed. Mount Tabor carried it into the second period and led 43-20 at the half.
“We needed to get better on defense and start running our offense through Ben (Bowen) in the second half,” Clark said.
The second half proved better for the Sauras as they outscored the Spartans 35-30 with Bowen leading the way with 12 points, but the deficit was too much to overcome.
On Wednesday, South had an opportunity to revenge a previous loss to Mount Airy, but it didn’t look good early on as the Bears blew the game open with a 23-9 advantage after an 18-2 run the last 4:47 of the first quarter.
Mount Airy, the sixth seed, began the second period with a basket from Andrew Isom at the 7:25 mark. An intentional foul by Donovan Greene with 5:35 to play in the quarter sparked a 20-4 run by the Sauras and a 30-29 halftime lead by the lower seeded team. Bowen highlighted the quarter with his 1,000th point on a free throw.
“I felt really good with the way our kids responded in the second quarter,” Clark said. “We needed to continue pressuring them and attacking the basket through our post players in order for us to be successful in the second half.”
Mount Airy started the third quarter with a 10-3 run and led 39-33 with 3:48 to play in the period. After a three-pointer by South’s Landon Parsons cut the deficit to three points, the Bears finished with a 44-40 edge entering the last action of play.
South Stokes finally caught Mount Airy with 4:43 left when Parsons hit his third three-pointer of the game to put the visitors up 50-49. Both teams continued to trade baskets when Greene committed his fifth foul of the game with 2:13 play. On top of his elimination foul, he was assessed a technical foul as well. The Sauras capitalized with a three-point play by Bowen and hit one of the two free throws for a 56-51 lead and possession of the ball. Bowen connected on two more free throws and the Sauras rode the game out at the charity stripe for the 64-55 victory.
“This game was important for us,” Clark stated. “Not only did we need the win, but Mount Airy is a conference team and this could be a tie-breaker for us at the end of the season.”
Clark also praised Bowen for his efforts and his leadership during his four seasons with the Sauras.
“Ben is a big part of our program and why we have been successful. We are proud of his accomplishments and look forward to what he can bring us the rest of the year.”
South Stokes closed out the tournament with a 55-53 win against North Forsyth on Thursday for fifth place. The Sauras lost a close game to the Vikings by one point on Dec. 20.
Bowen led the Sauras during the Frank Spencer with 53 points in three games along with 18 rebounds, six blocks, and four assist in his performance against the Bears.
South Stokes (11-3) will face Winston-Salem Prep, the winner of the Frank Spencer Myers Tire bracket, on Jan. 5 in Walnut Cove.
Robert Money can be reached at 336-749-1193.