The Salem High boys open River Ridge District play this week and Salem won’t have time to wade in and see if the water’s warm. The Spartans will be thrown right into the fire with road games at Cave Spring tonight and at Blacksburg Saturday.
Cave Spring is not only the district favorite, but the Knights may be the best Group AA team in the state. They’re 7-1 after winning three games in the Holiday Hoopla event at the Salem Civic Center last week and they present some real problems for the Spartans with 6’11” center Josh Henderson and a host of talented accomplices, including Clay Lacy, who played recreation ball for West Salem once upon a time.
Salem coach Kevin Garst knows all about the Knights, as Cave Spring hosted the Holiday Hoopla event at the Salem Civic Center last week. There are no secrets between Salem and Cave Spring, just mutual respect.
“We’ve had a chance to watch them quite a bit,” said Garst. “When you watch a team you try to find their weaknesses, and so far we haven’t been able to find any.”
Henderson is a huge factor in any game he plays, literally. Salem has no one to match up with him one-on-one, and if the Spartans try to collapse around him the Knights have shooters who can burn you from the outside.
“They have some guys who can shoot,” said Garst. “Henderson can get you points inside, and on defense they can afford to gamble because they know he’s around to the basket. They never give up an easy layup.”
Henderson, a senior with a scholarship to Vanderbilt in his back pocket, has gotten bigger and stronger in the past three years. He’s always had a nice shooting touch.
“He’s gotten stronger and more aggressive,” said Garst. “He’s just better all-around. When an SEC school offers you a scholarship, that says a lot.”
On Saturday the Spartans will be at Blacksburg to meet another tough River Ridge opponent, and Salem opened the week with a 53-47 win at Northside on Tuesday. The Vikings won their Christmas Tournament last week and came into the New Year at 6-1, losing only to Cave Spring before the Spartans beat them.
“This is one of our toughest week’s of the season,” said Garst. “We’re playing three very good teams, all on the road.”
Salem showed some mettle against Northside. The Spartans trailed 24-18 at the half and 37-31 after three quarters, but played well down the stretch, outscoring the Vikings 22-10 in the fourth quarter.
Reggie Barnette had 20 points for Salem and Stephen Barnette had 13. The Spartans won despite shooting just 19 for 32 from the line as they improved to 5-3 overall.
The Salemites got some big-time experience in the Holiday Hoopla last week despite losing two of three games. After hammering Eastern Montgomery in the opener, 81-47, they dropped an overtime game to William Fleming, 53-52, and a 62-49 game to Roanoke Catholic, all at the Salem Civic Center.
“We played against some tough competition,” said Garst. “It exposed a few things and gives us a measuring stick for where we’re at. Now, it’s just a matter of getting better.”
Against Fleming Reggie Barnette had 21 points and Stephen had 17. Both had double-doubles as Reggie had 10 rebounds, Stephen had 11, and Seth Carroll also had 11. Salem outrebounded the Colonels, 44-28.
This was a tough one to lose. At the end of the overtime Stephen Barnette hit a basket that could have won the game but it came just after the final horn, allowing Fleming to hang on.
Against Catholic Stephen had 14 and Reggie had 12. This time the bigger Celtics outrebounded Salem, 28-20, and again the Spartans struggled at the line, hitting just eight of 15 on the night.
Cave Spring won all three games in the Holiday Hoopla, and Hidden Valley beat Fleming and East Mont after getting destroyed by Catholic in their opener. The Fleming game went three overtimes before the Titans pulled out a 59-54 win.
“Our district’s going to be tough,” said Garst. “We need to get off to a good start this week.”