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Rocky Mount High boys survive, Nash Central advance

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Rocky Mount High's Shyheim Battle, right, battles for a rebound with Northern Nash's Darquez Flowers on Wednesday during overtime of their game in the Big East Conference Tournament at Southern Nash High School. Battle secured the rebound and was fouled on the play.

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By Ethan Joyce
Sports Writer

Thursday, February 16, 2017

BAILEY — Rocky Mount High was playing for survival.

The Gryphons entered Wednesday’s Big East tournament semifinal against top-seeded Northern Nash two games below .500. They knew if they wanted to make the playoffs, they had to win this tournament.

As of today, that is still reachable.

Rocky Mount (10-11 overall) battled the Knights into overtime, and the Gryphons bulled their way to a 72-65 victory. Rocky Mount will play Nash Central in the finals on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Southern Nash.

Gryphons coach Mike Gainey said he, along with half of the team, have been sick all week. With the help of his coaching staff, Gainey said the team remained focused on that goal.

“They knew,” Gainey said. “I’ve been telling them the whole time that we’d have to win the tournament to win out.

“Unfortunately with the football season, we didn’t play games until later and still not having everybody together . . . We knew our backs were against the wall, and these two teams out here were pretty darn good.”

The game was won in the paint for the Gryphons, who hounded Northern Nash inside during the extra period. After the Knights’ Demonte Williams scored the first basket of overtime, Artavious Richardson responded by crushing the interior. The senior went up for two shots, missing them both but pulled down the offensive rebounds. He drew a foul and sank two free throws. Shyheim Battle went the same route a play later by drawing a foul.

Battle would do that two more times during the 4-minute period, scoring 4 points in overtime and 17 in the game.

Richardson said this game shows what the Gryphons are capable of.

“We always knew we could win,” Richardson said. “We just had to come out fighting and have a lot of heart and not give up.

“To win those type of games, in those types of atmospheres, it is all about your heart.”

Rocky Mount kept Northern Nash’s fast-paced attack off balance. The Gryphons jumped out to a 16-7 lead, forcing Northern Nash into turnovers. The Knights responded by going on a 10-0 run that gave them the lead just before a 3-pointer from Isaiah Morris at the buzzer that put Rocky Mount ahead two.

Those turnovers plagued both teams throughout the game. But Northern Nash’s struggle to maintain a consistent pace, and going 8 of 23 from the free-throw line in the latter half, did them in.

“We always play our hardest against Northern,” Battle said. “But I thought tonight, we played the hardest we ever have against Northern.”

Northern Nash (22-3 overall) dealt with the absence of Darius Spragley. The senior guard injured one of his big toes this week, and Drake opted to sit him out. He is scheduled to get it checked today, according to Drake.

“But we are already in the playoffs, and we have already secured the No. 1 seed,” Drake said. “Yes, we wanted to win the ball game, but we looked at it, and we have a bigger goal ahead.

“So we decided to sit him out.”

The Knights’ Raymond Bullock also prompted a scare. In the fourth quarter, the senior post player went down on the floor while vomiting. He was helped to the floor by coaches, and he remained there for a few minutes. He got up and walked out of the gym on his own, and he re-entered the game later that quarter.

Drake said Bullock was hit in the stomach before that moment, and he was still battling remnants of sickness from last week. The impact of the blow, plus his body being overheated, is what the coach felt like caused the issue.

“He (Bullock) has got a hamstring pull he’s playing through,” Drake said. “We’ve got some injuries that, at this time of the season, is just bad for us.”

NASH CENTRAL 70, WILSON FIKE 64

Montre Cash only needed to see one floater go down.

Once he did, the Nash Central guard became frustrating for Wilson Fike.

Cash crafted slow-and-low, 29-point outing, scoring 24 in the second half, in the other Big East semifinal on Wednesday. The Bulldogs (16-6 overall) plunged at the heart of the Demons’ zone defense.

Wilson Fike’s defense was anchored by big man Samson Strickland. The senior seemed to come down with every rebound within range. He also served as an agile center in the paint.

Cash noticed both on Wednesday and during Fike’s game against Southern Nash on Monday that the Demons’ zone was wide. It left passing lanes open for him if he could work his way in.

The Bulldogs guard nailed his first floater in the third quarter, and he plugged away from there.

“I knew I needed a big game,” Cash said. “It was 32-30 at halftime.

“DK (Dominick Dixon) played very well the first half, too.”

Dixon had 16 points, and nine of those came in the first quarter.

The Big East championship on Friday will mark the fourth time the Bulldogs and Gryphons will meet this season. In the last game, a 72-58 Nash Central win, Cash poured in a career-high 34 points. He expects it will be hard to do that again.

“They are a really, really good team that is starting to mesh,” Cash said. “They had two very big wins and I know they are going to have a very good gameplan coming.

“I respect Coach Gainey a lot, and their 2-1-2 play was working well tonight.”


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