The biggest disappointment for the West Forsyth boys basketball team in its 71-34 victory against North Forsyth in Tuesday's Region 5-7A tournament opener was the ferocity of a dunk by Terrence Taylor Jr. -- or lack thereof.
The Wolverines' senior wing scored the team's final seven points of the third quarter, and the last of those came on a fast-break where Taylor Jr. received a pass with a clear path to the basket. He took two steps and leaped for the hoop with the ball in his right hand. Every part of what happened next looked like a dunk, but Taylor Jr. didn’t pull down on the rim at the end and produce that wonderful sound of rattling metal that brings a dunk to its dramatic conclusion.
North called a timeout right after, and Taylor Jr.’s teammates took the opportunity to give him a hard time.
"They were just saying it was a hard lay-up, stuff like that," Taylor Jr. said. "But I'm still going to count it as a dunk."
It was a welcome change in mood for West after the team limped into the region tournament with back-to-back losses to Milton (68-52) and South Forsyth (72-62) that contributed to the Wolverines falling to the No. 3 seed. West (15-11) secured its second straight state tournament appearance and advanced to play Milton on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in the region semifinals.
“Last year, the excitement was different making the playoffs unexpectedly, making state playoffs for the second time in school history,” West head coach Fredrick Hurt said. “Whereas this year we feel like we’re supposed to be in the state playoffs. We’re still excited, it’s just a different excitement.”
Despite those losses, West didn’t feel the confidence it built up over a breakthrough regular season, which included a 10-game winning streak and a sweep of county rival Lambert, had been comprised. The team showed moxie in making a second-half comeback attempt against Milton, and Hurt liked the team’s defensive focus against South but lamented what he called an off shooting night.
“This year we’ve improved a lot mentally,” junior Payton Aiken said. “We were able to come together, and we had an intense practice, and coach sent us a motivational text. I think there was no concern. We were pretty confident.”
West raced out to a 22-13 lead after the first quarter with 10 points coming from Broc Bidwell, and when the Wolverines started the second quarter in a lull Hurt brought in Nick Zabetakis for a spark. The diminutive sophomore never scored, but he finished with four assists, two rebounds and two steals and stabilized the Wolverines in that second quarter during which they eventually built a 39-22 lead by halftime.
“I try to do whatever I can to give energy and hype everybody else up,” Zabetakis said.
Jonathan Pefanis led North with 13 points, while West got balanced scoring from Bidwell (10 points), Andrew Stanton (nine points) and Michael Zabetakis (13 points).
Taylor Jr. led all scorers with 15 points, but he got a reminder of how to properly complete a dunk in the fourth quarter when Aiken finished a breakaway opportunity with a definitive slam.
All eyes on West’s bench were immediately on Taylor Jr.