EDEN — It started out like most of the Person High School boys’ basketball games in recent weeks.
The Rockets were running up and down the floor at breakneck speed, forcing turnovers and knocking down shots.
And then everything changed as Western Alamance ran away with a 78-63 victory in the semifinal game of the Mid-State Conference tournament Tuesday at Morehead High School.
With the win, the third-seeded Warriors advanced to Friday’s final to face fourth-seed McMichael, who upset previously-undefeated Eastern Alamance, 49-42 Wednesday night.
The Rockets (16-10) now get a full week off before beginning play in the 3A state playoffs next Tuesday. They will get the conference’s second seed in the playoffs and all but certain to get a first-round playoff game at home.
This little respite comes at a good time after playing three games in a span of five days.
“Hopefully, we can get some rest,” Person coach Charles Dacus said. “We’ve got to get better defensively with some other defenses because we’re not going to be able to continue to just press. We’ve got to get smarter with the basketball. The main thing for us right now is to get some rest and increase our conditioning going forward.”
Person got off to a strong start and led 10-4 two and a half minutes into the game after a Cam Brown steal led to an acrobatic layup from Tae Bailey around a Western Alamance defender.
After a quick timeout, the Warriors started to dissect the Rockets’ press — finishing the first quarter on a 19-3 spurt, highlighted by three buckets from Jaydn Neal. Neal finished with a game high 21.
Western took a 23-13 lead into the second quarter and Person was never closer.
The Warriors continued the onslaught with a 16-3 start to the second quarter and led by 18 at the half. They were able to keep the Rockets at arms-length throughout the second half.
“Hats off to Western Alamance,” Dacus said. “They just punched us in the mouth at the start of the game. We weren’t ready for the intensity they brought on the offensive side. They were attacking us hard and we weren’t ready defensively to defend them.”
For Person, it was the third game in a five-day stretch including a tougher-than-expected 90-78 win against Northeast Guilford the night before that wasn’t decided until the final minutes. The Rockets defeated NE Guilford, 87-71 in game in which they led by 30 in the second half just three days earlier to close the regular season.
Dacus believes the quick turnaround had a factor in his team’s performance against Western Alamance.
“With the style of play that we want to play, we want a lot of possessions,” Dacus said. “We just weren’t able to do it. You could tell we were gassed after a couple of minutes. We tried to make a couple of subs and they got gassed quick, too. With the style of play that we need to play to be effective, it hurts us.”
Brown led the Rockets with 15 points, while Nathan Phillips came off the bench and finished with 12 points. It was the senior’s third consecutive double-figure game.
“He’s been playing solid all year,” Dacus said. “He’s been taking more of a scoring role with a couple of injuries we’ve had an guys not being here, and he’s done a great job with that. That’s what seniors are supposed to do — step up and contribute.”
Bailey and Devaun Nelson finished with 10 points each, while Dre Newman and Malik Williams each scored seven.
Jaylen Black rounded out the Person scoring with two points.
The teams split the regular season series, each winning on the other’s home floor. Person hammered Western 77-46 Jan. 8 after unveiling a new trapping, full-court, up-tempo style.
Three weeks later, the Warriors were able to slow down the streaking Rockets and left Roxboro with a 65-62 win.