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Northern Nash boys stay perfect, girls improve on fast start

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BY SAMUEL EVERS
Sports Writer

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

There was ample opportunity for Northern Nash’s boys’ basketball team to put its game away on Tuesday night, but Nash Central, playing in a loud rival gym, forced the Knights to get to work to maintain their undefeated record.

Down nine points late in the third quarter and 10 late in the fourth, the Bulldogs countered both times with a scrappy run of their own, finally pushing the deficit to within three with 90 seconds left. But the Knights, with both the athletic and home court advantage, kept the Bulldogs (1-4) at arm’s length for an eventual 64-56 win, pushing their record to a perfect 8-0 to start the year.

The win was one of the tougher of the season, said Knights coach Henry Drake, with Nash Central jumping out to a lead early, but the three-point shot, a weapon all season, kept the Knights afloat early in the game.

Trailing by nine points with a minute left in the first half -- the Bulldogs’ largest lead of the game -- Northern Nash hit three consecutive three-pointers to close out, tying the game going into the intermission.

Two of those came from senior Undray Cherry, who carried his hot streak into the second half, adding another 10 points in the third quarter for a game-high 22.

“After halftime, we just got focused, played defense more seriously,” said Cherry, one of four seniors for the Knights.

With a start that has so far mirrored last year’s success, a season that ended with a 25-4 record, much can be accredited to the team’s versatility and athleticism, said Drake. Most players can shoot, pass and bring the ball up the floor, so the plan thus far has been to let the natural talent mesh.

That philosophy, said Drake, actually runs counterintuitive to his coaching instincts, but for now, he’s sticking to what’s working.

“We would prefer to pound the ball down low,” he said. “But because of the guys’ skill level and size and ability to shoot the three well, we’re not going to bend that. Our goal is to pound the ball inside and utilize our skill players down there.”

When the Bulldogs mounted their run late in the game, it was again the three-point shot that clinched it for the Knights. After a shot by AJ Styles cut the lead to three with 90 seconds left, Sam Page hit his second from deep of the quarter to finally close out Nash Central.

“They’re always going to give you everything you’ve got,” Drake said. “Because their coach gives it everything. We knew it would be a tough fight.”

Five seniors and four starters are missing from last year’s team that reached the fourth round of the 3-A playoffs and, as any high school coach will attest this time of year, a main challenge has been finding out who can fill in where.

But these Knights have caught on quick, said Drake, with the final product an exciting thought.

“This team this year is different from last year, but they’re just as explosive and exciting to watch,” he said. “These kids are trying to build their own identity, and they’re doing a good job of it. We still have a lot of work to do. It’s a building process right now, but I’d hate to be some teams on the other side when we finally put it all together.

Girls: Northern Nash 48, Nash Central 27

Northern Nash girls’ basketball team has a small, quick lineup, and on Tuesday up 13-10 midway through the second quarter against Nash Central, coach Grover Battle decided to unleash in the form of the press.

A few minutes of gameplay and several turnovers later, the Knights had a 25-12 halftime lead. That run paved the way for a 48-27 win, improving their record to 5-2, only three wins short of last year’s total of eight.

“We’re just a team full of guards, so we’re hoping speed will help us out a lot,” senior Shamiya Mercer said. “We’re working hard on it in practice.”

Mercer was one of three Knights on Tuesday with a team-high nine points; the game-high tally was 14 by Nash Central’s Robbi Allen.

Six of Mercer’s came during that tide-turning second quarter.

“We rotated well in our press tonight. It caused them to make some passes they weren’t ready for,” Battle said. “Basically, we start three guards and two forwards, but I think our girls are very aggressive. They play well together and defend well.”

With three seniors and five freshman, the Knights this year are still a young team. The change from last season may be more about a right attitude, Battle said.

“I’ve got some girls that are interested in playing, they want to play and they want to learn,” he said. “With the upperclassmen and the freshmen, the mix is real good for us.”

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