Rocky Mount Prep falls in title game to Williamston Riverside

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Rocky Mount Prep's Trevor Batchelor, front, drives along the baseline as Williamston Riverside's Ronavis Whitfield defends from behind Thursday during the championship game of the Two Rivers 1-A Conference Tournament at Everett Gymnasium at N.C. Wesleyan College.


By Ethan Joyce
Sports Writer

Friday, February 17, 2017

Bobby Williams just wanted to give his big man a break.

As the third quarter against Rocky Mount Prep trickled away, the Williamston Riverside coach looked down his bench for a sub. He picked the best shooter he saw, Jahkee Cooper, to bring in for 6-foot-7 Markel Freeman. 

The coach got what he needed from the change. Cooper drilled a long 3-pointer off an inbounds play at the buzzer to capping a mini run and bring the Knights within two. They marched on from there, crafting a 67-58 victory in the Two Rivers Conference 1-A title game on Thursday at N.C. Wesleyan. 

“That was huge,” Williams said. “My big man was tired, and I wanted to give him a 20-second rest. 

“Somebody else went to catch the inbound play, and I told Jahkee to go get it. He grabbed it and buried it. It was just the flow of the game.”

In the teams’ last matchup, a 69-68 Rocky Mount Prep win on Jan. 31, Freeman fought foul trouble. That wasn’t the case on Thursday, where the Jaugars (20-5) could not match Riverside’s interior strength, specifically on the offensive glass.

The Knights took a one-point lead with 5 minutes left, and they sucked the life out of the game. Riverside’s evasive passing churned about a minute of clock. The team missed four consecutive shots but got the ball back each time. By the time Freeman banged around for an inside score, nearly another minute passed by. 

Riverside continued to pound away and outlasted Rocky Mount Prep’s fouls by draining free throws. The Knights were 10-15 from the line in the fourth quarter.

“In that first half, I was disappointed with (rebounding) at halftime,” Williams said. “I would have guessed about 50-to-60 percent of their points came from offensive rebounds. 

“When you take Markel off the floor, we are 5-9, 5-9 and 5-9. . . We are at the best when Jordan Spruill and Ronavis Whitfield are getting in there rebounding too. When we do that, we like our chances.”

Rocky Mount Prep held a 5-point lead at halftime before Riverside pushed back. The Jaguars were plagued with sloppy ball handling that tripped up the offense. 

Keyshawn Bryant carried Rocky Mount Prep in the third quarter. He scored 12 points in the frame, and he finished with 17. Though they held tight, the Jaguars were hamstrung by their 30 turnovers.

The sloppiness was uncharacteristic for the Jaguars, and Rocky Mount Prep coach Jolly Manning said it wasn’t the performance the team wanted to have before the state playoffs. He is certain the team can correct things before their first matchup week.

“We will have to change some practice strategies and some practice drills and do some game-time situations a little more,” Manning said. “We want to get that decision making a little bit better.

“I know just the thing to do for it, and we will definitely work on it and be much better going into the playoffs.”