Both sides know each other inherently, on and off the court.
But do they know if there will be a game?
That is the most pressing question after this week for scheduling in Western North Carolina basketball.
Ill effects from snow, ice, record-low temperatures as well as an NCHSAA mandate have combined to doom four WNC conference tournaments to an outright cancellation – the Mountain Athletic 3-A, WNC Athletic 2-A/3-A, Big Smoky Mountain 1-A and Little Smoky Mountain 1-A.
The Western Highlands 1-A/2-A postponed all its games scheduled for Thursday.
So where does that leave the MAC 3-A co-regular season boys champions?
Erwin (17-7, 10-2) and North Buncombe (20-3, 10-2) have mutually agreed on a neutral gym (Reynolds) for Friday’s special tiebreaker game that will decide the league’s No. 1 seed for the playoffs.
“I hate it for my seniors the most because this is two straight years without a conference tournament for them,” Black Hawks coach Joey Bryson said.
“Conference tournaments are always a lot of fun to play in. But if we couldn’t have one, then maybe this is the best way to do it. I would hate it for the idea (of a No. 1 seed) to come from a coin flip. This way, the kids get to decide it.”
Friday’s start time will depend on whether Buncombe County Schools has classes or not.
If there is no school, the game will tip at 3 p.m. at Reynolds. If classes are either delayed or held on a regular schedule, Erwin and North Buncombe will tussle at 5 p.m.
Admission is $6.
The capacity of Erwin’s gym is 1,720. And a fire marshal stepped in the last time the two rivals met (an 82-67 home win by the Warriors on Feb. 6). Fans were told roughly 30 minutes prior to the boys tip-off that no one would be allowed to buy tickets until others exited the gym.
Friday is the rubber match. North Buncombe protected its home court with a 61-56 win on Jan. 15, and Erwin then got payback.
Black Hawks athletic director Barry Owens said that Friday’s early start times were motivated by safety concerns. Ideally, BCS wants to ensure that the teams and fans are able to return home before it gets dark outside and record-low temperatures in the county drop further.
The Citizen-Times will provide a live blog Friday at CITIZEN-TIMES.com/hshuddle, as well as morning updates on any changes to the game.
Due to statewide weather concerns, the NCHSAA said Wednesday that it will not consider conference tournament results after Friday when seeding the state playoffs. That left the MAC 3-A in a bind, as a tiebreaker game between the Erwin and North Buncombe boys must be gotten in before Saturday when the seeding process begins.
So the boys and girls tournament was cancelled.
Erwin and North Buncombe considered moving the tiebreaker game to UNC Asheville’s Kimmel Arena in light of ticket demand, but the college already has its athletics hall of fame ceremony booked.
Neither team should be expected to be at their best Friday. BCS allowed practices on Thursday, which was the first of the week for North Buncombe. Erwin coach David Rhoney said he only sneaked in one, which occurred Monday morning,
The Black Hawks are in the midst of their first conference-championship season in boys basketball in five years.
Former All-WNC selection Daniel Burchette is the team’s top scorer (22.4 points per game), which is the highest mark in the MAC this winter. Burchette also produces a team-high 3.9 steals per game to go along with 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists. The senior has not yet made a college commitment.
Leading rebounder Brennan Hockaday (7.9 a game) is the team’s second-leading scorer (15.3), followed by Blake Mathews (11.9 ppg. and 6.5 rpg.). Kevin Church dishes out 3.8 assists a game, along with making an average of 2.8 steals. David Elkins is contributing 2.4 assists and 1.4 steals on any given night.
Friday night is not complicated. Whichever team funnels its emotion in the right way and executes in the right way is going to win, Bryson said.
“Each program has such great respect for one another. Both coaching staffs respect each other,” Bryson said.
“It’s what postseason basketball is all about. You know it going to be emotional.”
Erwin will enter Friday’s game with a five-game winning streak and the Warriors are the defending MAC 3-A regular season champions.
The MAC 3-A and 4-A tournaments were canceled in 2014, which at the time, was believed to be a first for WNC’s largest league.
“I think a game like this can only help both of us with the state playoffs coming up,” Erwin coach David Rhoney said.
“The chance to play a really good opponent is something our kids can put all their focus on. I know our kids, and I know their kids. This is going to be really exciting.”
Rhoney resigned from North Buncombe in 2011 after winning 204 career games with the Black Hawks.
For the season, Malik Moore (17.6 points per game), Alic Wynn (15.2 ppg.) and Brennan Howard (13.5 ppg.) have paced the team in scoring.
Moore was the 2014 Citizen-Times All-WNC Player of the Year.
Wynn (9.3), Moore (8.4), Jeremiah Jackson (7.5) and Tarique Wynn (4.5) hold down the fort with their rebounds. Maltry is the top producer in assists (5.1), along with Moore (3.6), who averages 2.4 steals.