Rocky Mount Academy boys advance to CIC tournament semifinals
By PATRICK MASON
Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Joshua Legaj spends more time in one spot on the basketball cour than any other.
During practices inside Rocky Mount Academy’s gymnasium, the senior can be found taking corner 3s, with the basket to his right, one after another. And Legaj was shooting from that during pregame shootaround before Tuesday’s opening round of the CIC tournament against Halifax Academy. It was then he knew it would be a good night.
Legaj and teammate Aubrey Mitchell powered the Eagles to a 57-42 win, and a berth in the semifinals held on Friday at Kerr-Vance Academy.
“I knew before the game started that things were starting to click,” said Legaj, who scored 18 points. “I spend a lot of time in that spot, and when those shots are falling I know good things are about to come.”
The Eagles opened the game on an 8-0 run, then pushed the lead to 14-2 before the Vikings called a timeout with 4:18 left in the first quarter. Mitchell and Legaj took advantage of the Vikings’ slow-rotating zone, and combined for five 3s in the opening quarter. The hot shooting gave RMA an early lead it wouldn’t give back.
“They were hot from outside and got on that run that hurt us,” Vikings guard Jackson Harris said. “We’re used to runs like that, and we had to keep pushing because we knew we needed a run of our own.”
The Vikings’ Eric Williams was the only threat to RMA’s lead in the first half. The 6-foot-5 center was a handful under the basket. He would back down defenders then go to a hook shot, and other times would score on layups over a group of smaller players. He used his size to score 15 first-half points, as the Vikings cut into their large deficit to trail 36-24 at halftime.
But out of the break, the Eagles held Williams to two second-half points.
“We started to get physical with him,” Legaj said. “We knew they wanted to get him the ball inside, so we made sure that they find another way to score.”
That opened up the outside for Harris, who led Halifax Academy with 22 points. He knocked down three 3s in the game, and proved he could score in the paint. But it wasn’t enough to keep up with the Eagles. Mitchell paired his outside shot with a dazzling array of moves that created space for him to shoot. He hit mid-range jump shots, then would score on driving layups.
Mitchell has seen just about every type of defense this season as opposing teams have tried to limit the Eagles’ top scorer. Sometimes he’ll face double teams, while other times he’ll see 1-3-1 zones and box-and-1 defenses. For the latter, the Eagles designed a play called “Snake” that isolates Mitchell on a part of the floor he’s comfotable.
“Snake basically takes those odd ways to stop me out of their hands,” Mitchell said.”It basically turns the game into a 4-on-4. I’ve seen some crazy, weird defenses this year, and we’re always looking for ways to free me.”
Mitchell maneuvered around a couple traps, and a box-and-1 to score a game-high 29 points. That total was two shy of his season high.
Kerr-Vance Academy 75
Rocky Mount Academy 21
Julia High raced around the floor for Rocky Mount Academy and tried to keep the score close, but the Eagles didn’t have enough firepower to keep up with Kerr-Vance Academy in an opening-round loss in the CIC tournament on Tuesday.
High led RMA with 12 points, and was the only Eagle to score in the second and third quarters as the Spartans pulled away. KVA held a 30-13 lead at halftime, then opened the second half on a devastating 19-1 run to put away the Eagles. High scored her team’s first basket of the third quarter with 2:22 remainng, after making a free throw earlier in the frame.
The Spartans outscored the Eagles 31-1 in the third quarter, which saw a running clock begin in the final minute. RMA forward Rachel Scott Dunn hit a 3 with 50 seconds left in the fourth quarter, and was the only RMA player other than High to score after the first quarter.
Bonnie Evans scored a game-high 27 points for KVA, while teammate Kennedy Adcock added 19. The Spartans made seven 3-pointers in the win.