Lessons to be learned for Northern Nash hoops


Northern Nash Henry Richardson, left, and Rocky Mount High’s Mario Dupree fight over the rebound Friday during the Nash County Christmas Tournament at Northern Nash


Sports Writer

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Almost two weeks after the fact, the same sentiment sticks for Northern Nash coach Henry Drake: The Knights should have entered winter break undefeated.

As far back as November, Drake acknowledged the goal was to be 11-0 by Christmas, and, to his credit, Northern Nash was 10 games and about three-and-a-half quarters into reaching that mark.

But on Dec. 15, in the title game of the Nash County Christmas Tournament, the Knights, up eight points with four minutes left, either committed a bevy of mistakes or succumbed to a great Rocky Mount run (depending on who you ask), as regulation ended with a buzzer-beating Gryphons layup that sent the game to overtime.

Rocky Mount took control in the extra period and won the game, 90-78, securing the tournament title and ending Northern Nash’s pre-Christmas record at an unexpected 10-1.

“My kids felt so bad, because they knew we should have won the game. They let it slip out of their hands,” said Drake, whose Knights open up the second half of their season today against Warren County in the Bunn Holiday Tournament.

On the whiteboard in Northern Nash’s locker room, a couple of things are emphasized: The need to practice both focus and mental toughness for all 32 minutes of a basketball game.

That’s agreeable fodder when a team wins its first 10 games. But, as Drake pointed out, when a team melts down and loses a winnable game because it didn’t adhere to those white board necessities, a real life teaching example opens up.

That’s what the Knights have been focused on the last 12 days.

“It was a great opportunity for us, a chance to teach the kids. I can always put things on the board but until they really see it in a game, they can’t understand. They got a chance to see first-hand how important 32 minutes is,” Drake said. “We’re going to treat this loss as new motivation for us to get back to what we should be paying much more attention to. They get that.”

Despite the hot start, Northern Nash -- a team missing five seniors and four starters from last year’s 25-4 season -- is still looking for much of its identity, said Drake.

For one thing, last year’s team had what the coach called a “sure hand” in since-graduated Darius Spragley, someone who could get the ball in the final minutes of a close game and be trusted to make the right play.

As evidenced by the Dec. 15 game that went from an eight-point lead with four minutes left to a 12-point overtime loss, these current Knights are still searching for their sure hand.

“The thing is, it could be anybody this year. It doesn’t have to be one person,” Drake said. “We need players who are sure on what set we want to run, what we’re going to do.”

Senior Undray Cherry, who is second on the team with 14.5 points per game, has been one of the on-court leaders for the Knights this season, and played a key role in their game against Rocky Mount despite leaving for a solid chunk in the second half due to an ankle injury.

He’s a player who could be the sure hand, said Drake, along with others like Joseph Cherry-Blue, a junior transfer from Rocky Mount who’s averaging 15 points and seven rebounds per game, including a 19-point game against his former team.

The Knights start up today against Warren County, then, after their tournament, have a slate full of Big East games to finish the stretch run of the season, including two remaining contests against the Gryphons.

“Warren County High, we’ve heard they’re explosive,” Drake said. “We’re looking forward to seeing how we respond from that Rocky Mount game.”

Other area games

Rocky Mount (7-1) will put its five-game winning streak on the line today on the road against Corinth Holders High School at 2:30 p.m. in the first round of the Cleveland Christmas Tournament. Nash Central (5-4) will also play in the tournament, matching up today with North Raleigh Christian Academy at 5:30 p.m.

Southern Nash (5-4) will play Bunn in Bunn at 7:30 in the same tournament as Northern Nash.