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Gryphons sweep Firebirds in Rocky Mount

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By PATRICK MASON
Sports Writer

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

If Michael Gainey had it his way, he would find a way to hide the 3-point arc from his players and have them attack the rim at every chance.

But the Rocky Mount High boys’ basketball coach is growing more accepting of the long-range shot, and senior Rodney Alston is a big reason why.

While Alston’s range grows, so does Gainey’s definition of what good shot selection looks like. Alston made five 3-pointers on 5 of 11 shooting in stretching the floor for the Gryphons as they earned a 69-52 win over visiting Southern Nash in a Big East Conference game on Tuesday.

“We like to rely on layups,” Gainey said. “I don’t like that 3-point line, but it’s a weapon that our opponent likes to use, and it’s a weapon that we can use as well.”

Southern Nash (11-8, 4-2) lives by the 3-point shot. About 42 percent of the shots the Firebirds take are from beyond the arc. By comparison, about 1 of every 5 shots the Gryphons take are 3s.

Firebirds guard Tyler Wilson is always a threat from the corner or the wing, while Jalen Lucas has dialed in his range this season. Both players are averaging double figures in points, and both have the ability to shoot Southern Nash into games.

Those long looks weren’t there on Tuesday, however, as the Gryphons defense allowed little room to maneuver in the halfcourt. Each time a Firebirds player brought the ball into their offensive zone he was quickly surrounded by a pair of defenders.

The tight defense forced Southern Nash into 12 first-half turnovers, allowing the Gryphons to take off and run. The up-tempo style, aided by Gainey’s hockey-style substitutions where the whole lineup would change at times, kept its legs as RMH raced around the floor.

Javeon Jones doubled his season average of 10 points per game with a game-high 21 on a number of slick moves to the basket. Point guard Jamar Ellis attacked from the baseline, while Shyheim Battle and Keeshawn Silver controlled the boards.

All of that opened up space on the perimeter. The Gryphons made seven 3s in all, led b Alston who made four of his five 3s in the first half. Tavaughn Parker added a first-quarter 3, and Jones capped the barrage with a 3 at the halftime buzzer.

“It’s been good a good mix,” Alston said of his team’s shot selection. “Coach has been preaching for us to run the floor as a team and attack the basket. But he lets us do our thing, and when we attack, we get chances to shoot, too.”

RMH (16-2, 6-0) led 35-25 at halftime, backed by a 9-0 run to open the second quarter. Southern Nash, after struggling to deal with the stifling traps it saw in the first half, figured out how to move the ball more effectively in the second half, but still couldn’t get shots to fall.

“When we turn the ball over it kills us,” Firebirds coach Robbie Kennedy said. “I thought we played really hard, but just shot the ball bad. We just can’t have that against a team like that. They’re good, 16-2 for a reason, very athletic, and they can make shots.”

At times the game looked chaotic, but RMH has found a way to play at full speed while still being under control enough to stay out of foul trouble and get off shots. Gainey said he doesn’t like to call set plays, and instead allows his players to find the right option in a given moment. That style has worked well this season with the Gryphons entering the final four games of the season with just a pair of losses.

“This is how I like to play,” Gainey said. “I can’t stand running plays. We have a lot of speed and athleticism this year, and we want to use that to pressure. We want to force teams into turning the ball over. If we do that, our offense will come.”

GIRLS

Rocky Mount High 35

Southern Nash 25

Staked to a large halftime lead, Rocky Mount High overcame a tough third quarter to hang on to a Big East Conference win over the winless Ladybirds.

Southern Nash managed six points by halftime as Aaliyah Newkirk scored the only basket int he first quarter, before Shontell Nicholson scored four in the second quarter. Things would pick up out of the break, however, as the Ladybirds (0-17, 0-6) made their run.

Stacie Winner drained a pair of 3-point shots, while Lydia Ruffin and Rayna Bailey each scored layups. The result was a 10-2 run over the first five minutes of the third quarter to cut the Rocky Mount High lead to 23-16.

The Gryphons could only watch as their lead was trimmed as they shot 1 of 13 in the quarter. A lone basket by Nadirah Harmon was all they would muster.

Southern Nash kept the pressure on when it cut the lead to five points with 5:29 in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t get any closer. The Gryphons used a game-high 12 points from Mya Pittman to pull away, while free-throw shooting from Alexis Moore and Summer Hicks was enough to stave off a Ladybirds team hungry for their first win.

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