Decibel levels have never been higher in the short life of Smoky Mountain’s gym.
Spencer Norris and Cal Raleigh were appreciative of the love from a near-capacity crowd Tuesday. The seniors were briefly honored in a pregame ceremony for each having scored their 1,000th career point during the 2013-14 season.
But the noise was nowhere near its peak yet.
That was reserved for the third and fourth quarters.
Norris and Raleigh matched one another with 26 points and the Mustangs overcome a nine-point deficit in the second half to win the first-ever varsity boys basketball game in their gym in comeback fashion, 74-64 over Erwin.
Bret Baldwin added eight points.
Norris, who recently committed to play his college ball at Randolph (Va.), had 17 of his points in the second half. Raleigh divided his scoring evenly between the two halves and sank nine free throws.
Smoky Mountain (4-0) fell behind 45-36 with five minutes to go in the third quarter and trailed 51-49 entering the fourth against Erwin (2-2) and Malik Moore (17 points). Colby Maltry (14 points) and Jeremiah Jackson (13) also reached double figures but the defending Mountain Athletic Conference 3-A champion Warriors were unable to avoid just their second regular-season loss in two years.
Tuesday was the first basketball game between the Erwin and Smoky Mountain boys since the 2012-13 season. Neither one lost a regular-season game last winter meaning they had a combined record of 51-2.
“The atmosphere was phenomenal (on Tuesday night),” Norris said.
“Especially our student section, I told everyone I knew at school to be there (Tuesday). We have a lot of expectations for this team. We want to get back (to the Western Regional tournament) after making it as far as we did last season.”
Norris and Raleigh were both Citizen-Times All-WNC forwards for that 28-1 team which lost in the 2-A regional finals to North Rowan, 58-56, on the campus of UNC Greensboro.
Raleigh, who has signed to play college baseball for Clemson, was the Western North Carolina Athletic Conference Player of the Year for basketball as a junior. The Tigers coaching staff has given Raleigh its blessing to continue playing both sports.
As a team, Smoky Mountain has won at least a share of five of the last six WNCAC regular-season basketball championships.
Smoky Mountain’s new gym is part of a larger $11.5 facility that also includes space for the performing arts. Construction was completed last spring, but too late for the Mustangs to play their first basketball game until Tuesday.
The Mustangs’ old gym was 54 years old and about half the size of the new one which holds 1,500. It was nearly full before the completion of Tuesday’s varsity girls game – won by Erwin, 49-43.
Raleigh also grabbed 14 rebounds and Damon Ledford dished out four assists.
The Smoky Mountain boys played their fourth consecutive game without All-WNCAC point guard Jayce Wolfe, who is still nursing a shoulder injury from football season. There is no timetable for his return.
Baldwin directed the offense just fine Tuesday, and he and the Mustangs were in front 32-31 at halftime.
Erwin dealt with foul trouble for much of the second half – Jackson was whistled for his third one at the 6:38 mark of the third quarter. Smoky Mountain were in the bonus with just under 10 minutes remaining.
The Mustangs will return home Friday to host another Mountain Athletic Conference team from Buncombe County (Enka).
“I thought our kids really played hard (Tuesday) and did a lot of the little things right against a quality basketball team,” Smoky Mountain coach Jimmy Cleaveland said.
“Erwin’s kids played extremely hard, too. Give them credit. It was good to see how we reacted when we got down. All in all, it was a great night.”