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For Knights, a special season slowed by snow

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Rocky Mount High’s Jamar Ellis, left, tries to block Northern Nash’s Sam Page’s shot Friday during the Nash County Christmas Tournament at Northern Nash.

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By SAMUEL EVERS
Sports Writer

Thursday, January 18, 2018

For Northern Nash coach Henry Drake, the evidence has been there, even if the games on the schedule haven’t.

It’s sound attendance at an optional practice this past Martin Luther King Day, just the second practice of the month. It’s captain Desean Liggins asking Drake to do whatever he can to fit in today’s would-have-been game. It’s junior Sam Page finding a rim to get his 600 shots a day in.

The Knights, “They’re ready to play, I can tell you that,” Drake said.

Unfortunately for them, and the rest of the area schools, the roads have been deemed not ready, as Northern Nash, Rocky Mount, Southern Nash and Nash Central all had conference games cancelled and rescheduled Friday, continuing a month of spotty weather and makeups.

The scheduled games for those four teams on Tuesday will also be postponed to a date in February.

By the time the 26th rolls around -- Northern Nash’s next scheduled game -- the Knights will have played only one game this month, a win on Jan. 12 over Franklinton.

For a 14-1 team, that, as Drake likes to tell his players, “is 4.7 seconds and one free throw away from being undefeated,” all these shooting workouts, walkthroughs, open gyms and at-home pushups instead of consistent practices and games have been, in a word, frustrating.

They’re ready to get to what they think could be a special season.

“We were all just talking a second ago, everyone agreed, we really just want to play,” said Page on Thursday, before the decision was made to postpone today’s game for the Knights against Wilson Fike. “It is a little bit of frustration. We’re worried about coming out a little bit sloppy because it’s been so long. We’re all ready to get back in the playoffs and see what we can do, see how we can improve. All of us are just anxious.”

Page, who’s stayed busy hoisting jumpshots this month, scores around eight points per game, up six from last year, and is shooting nearly 50 percent from deep for the Knights. He’s playing a big role in the success of the Knights; the advice for him going forward? Shoot more.

“We tell him all the time. Every time he gets a look we want him to shoot,” Drake said. “Pull the trigger. We’ll let him know if he’s shooting too much.”

Though the record through 15 games this season has been similar to last year’s (13-2), the Knights, when they’ve played, have been more balanced this season. Instead of a defined go-to scorer, they have four players all scoring double-digits, from Darquez Flowers (10.5) to Joseph Cherry-Blue (14.1).

Cherry-Blue, who also grabs nearly seven rebounds a game, is a newcomer to the Knights, having transferred to Northern Nash after playing against them last year as a player for Rocky Mount.

His addition has been seamless, said Davontae Wiggins, who scores 11 points per game, part of a team chemistry that has the Knights thinking big.

“We’re a better team than last year’s team, we have better communication than we did last year,” said the junior, who scored just under ten points per game as a sophomore. “Us picking up an extra player from Rocky Mount, him falling right in, that helped our chemistry.

“We talk about staying out of trouble, staying together. We’re trying not to fall apart, picking people up when they’re down.”

There were a few close calls in the first half of the season, including an overtime win in November against Nash Central, but the defining moment so far has been the loss in December in overtime against Rocky Mount, a game they led by eight with four minutes remaining.

Northern Nash, nearly unblemished, has been ready to put that game behind them for some time. The trick now is playing enough games to make it a memory.

“I’m hoping this delay hasn’t set us back,” Drake said. “We’re starting to see some kids come out and perform to their capabilities. Ever since that Rocky Mount loss, they’ve re-committed themselves.”

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