Daylon Banks celebrated his senior night by putting on an offensive show Friday night for the fans at the Eagles’ Nest in Moravian Falls.
And his Wilkes Central Eagles celebrated by dispatching visiting Ashe County 67-52 in the next-to-last Mountain Valley Athletic Conference game of the season.
Banks poured in 30 points — all in the first three quarters of play — and seemed, for stretches, incapable of missing.
Banks was perfect from the free-throw line and showed off his deep range from long distance with seven triples, several of which came several feet behind the 3-point line.
“We want to come out aggressive, and we came out shooting tonight,” said Banks, one of six seniors to be recognized prior to the start of the boys varsity tilt. “Tonight we started hitting the three, and so we kept shooting. And then at halftime we talked about looking for them to adjust, and when they went out further defensively to defend the three how we needed to drive and dish and get everyone involved. And that helped us get some easy lay-ups.”
“It certainly opens things up for us when we can shoot like we did tonight,” said Wilkes Central Head Coach Matt Hagaman.
After trailing early — and momentarily — Wilkes Central first took the lead at the 6:11 mark of the first quarter when the Eagles’ press produced a turnover and Banks produced an old-fashioned three-point play after being hacked on a pretty up-and-under layup. That made it 7-6, and the home team never looked back.
“We got off to a slow start,” said senior wing Marcus Lopez. “But once we got our chemistry right and remembered what we were playing for, we got back on track.”
And when asked what the Eagles were playing for, Lopez didn’t hesitate.
“A championship. We’re playing for a championship and we’re playing for each other,” said Lopez.
The win put the Eagles on track for a crack at the MVAC title. Now 11-2 in league play (and 13-7 overall), the Eagles, winners of nine in a row, only need a win tonight at Elkin to be assured of at least a share of the conference crown.
Wilkes Central was actually a half-game up on Starmount, the team the Eagles are battling for the regular season championship, after Friday’s games. The Rams’ scheduled contest against North Wilkes was moved to Monday night.
After Central took the lead they quickly expanded it. In a span of 1:09 near the end of the first the Eagles drilled three straight triples, with Banks, Lopez and Zach Mastin (who finished with 18 points) doing the honors. And by the time the first eight minutes were over, the Eagles were up 23-13.
That double-digit margin held for most of the rest of the night (though Ashe was able to get to within five at the very start of the third period when Blake Lewis hit a transition layup). And by the end of a 19-point third quarter the Eagles had a comfortable 56-37 lead, with Central’s trademark stifling defense holding the Huskies in check and Banks providing three three-pointers in the frame.
“Our defense is the main thing that gets us going,” said Lopez. “We like to run, and everyone playing together on the defensive end gives a chance us to create turnovers, and let’s us get out and run and have the opportunity for transition baskets.”
Fellow seniors Jakob Gowan, Ethan Dobson, Jadyn Riddle and Colby Lakey joined Banks and Lopez for a ceremony pre-game. All but Lakey, out with an injury but named as an honorary captain in the starting lineup, played and scored Friday in the win.
“I’m so proud of what these seniors have accomplished here at Wilkes Central,” said Hagaman. “I love this group of guys. It’s truly a joy and a privilege to be one of the coaches for this group.”
Ashe County dropped to 5-8 in the MVAC and 7-14 overall. Lewis led the Huskies with 15 points, and Colby Greer added 10 in the loss.
The Huskies next face West Wilkes at home tonight in their regular-season finale.
A tenth-straight win tonight for Wilkes Central at Elkin will mean the Eagles can finish in no worse than a tie for first (Starmount will face Alleghany in Sparta tonight).
“This is what you work all summer and all season for,” said Hagaman of tonight’s tilt. “This is the ultimate game. It’s great to even have the opportunity. Now, we have to make sure we are focused and ready, because we are going to play a very tough opponent on the road. But we are excited for the chance.”