INDIAN TRAIL – The Sun Valley boys basketball team no longer resembles the club that began the season with a 4-5 start. Spartans coach Keith Mason has led the team to eight wins in their past nine games, including a 65-45 win over Parkwood on Jan. 24 that netted Mason his 200th career coaching victory.
That surge has put the Spartans right back in the thick of the Southern Carolinas race, which has them alone in third place with a 6-3 league record and 13-7 overall mark.
They are currently looking up at Weddington (14-5, 9-0) and Charlotte Catholic (14-3, 8-1), but with both teams still on the schedule, nothing is out of the realm of possibility.
Mason said the Spartans got on track after a 52-35 loss to Cuthbertson on Dec. 10.
“What kind of turned us around was when we played Cuthbertson the first time,” Mason said. “They handled us pretty good and it was a big punch in the nose, but ever since then it’s kind of woken us up a little bit. Sometimes that’s what it takes.”
Since then, the Spartans have only dropped games to Weddington and Charlotte Catholic as they’ve won nine of 11.
They got their shot at Cuthbertson again on Jan. 21 and nearly won wire-to-wire in the 61-56 win.
The Spartans followed that up with a 65-45 home win over Parkwood to continue their momentum.
Some of the play of late is due to the fact that the Spartans start five seniors and all eight of their regular rotation players are playing their last season of high school basketball together.
That’s a powerful thing that can’t be taken lightly.
“It goes to show that these guys have been here since Day 1,” Mason said. “I don’t get transfer guys. I get guys who are home-grown here. It goes to show that they buy in and they stay here. That’s another reason that’s helped us is that they know this is it. They want to go out and give it the best that they have and go out and play. It’s that and them believing and seeing some things. It’s paying off for us now.”
The Spartans are led in scoring by smooth guard Justin Morton (14.2 points), but get contributions nightly from senior starters Raheem Howard (12.4 points, 6.4 rebounds), Michael Grovanz (10.2 points, 4.1 rebounds), Teshaun Walker (10.0 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.9 assists) and Malachi Clyburn (3.8 points, 4.8 rebounds) who have started every game together this season.
Top reserves Joe Flucus and Isaiah Threatt are both key contributors as well.
While the wealth is very evenly distributed among the starters, that makes it the Spartans tougher to guard.
And, with a commitment to playing good defense and sharing the ball, the Spartans are playing good basketball at the right time with vital games against conference leaders Weddington (Jan. 28 after Indian Trail Weekly’s press deadline) and Charlotte Catholic (Feb. 4) looming.
“Since the first Cuthbertson game we’ve been playing really well except for the Catholic game. Catholic has our number, but we have to fix that,” Mason said. “Right now, we’re taking it one game at a time and we’re focused on whoever we’re playing next. We have to keep it going.”
With a shot at the conference title in sight and a team seemingly peaking at the right time, Mason said there are still some things his guys want to continue as they look to close out their high school career together.
“If we want to have any chance to win this thing we have to win out,” Mason said. “There are no if’s, and’s or but’s about it. We still have a shot at (a conference title), but we also want to make sure we get into the playoffs and we want to get far in the conference tournament. So there’s still a lot at stake and these guys don’t want it to end. They want to play as many games as possible and keep playing well for as long as we can.”