Rocky Mount Prep advances to third round of 1-A playoffs

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Rocky Mount Prep's Kalil Baker, right, defends as Plymouth's De'Andre Downing drives to the basket Thursday during the NCHSAA 1-A state playoffs second round game at Rocky Mount Prep.


Sports Writer

Thursday, February 22, 2018

He soared through the air, his purple-tinted shoes trailing behind him, to finish a layup through a flurry of swinging arms. Rocky Mount Prep’s Sam Benton started a third-quarter run which built to a crescendo when teammate Keyshawn Bryant threw down a thunderous dunk.

It was a whirlwind of a third quarter, a stretch of eight minutes the Jaguars used to get back on track against visiting No. 17 Plymouth in the second round of the NCHSAA 1-A boys basketball playoffs.

Top-seeded RMP made its first six shots of the quarter and pulled away for good to earn an 83-63 win and a spot in Saturday’s third round against No. 8 East Carteret, a winner over No. 9 Ocracoke.

“We really focused on keeping our conditioning where it needs to be,” Benton said. “We hadn’t played in a while, and as the top seed we know teams are coming for us. We started how we wanted to.”

The Jaguars (23-0), fresh off a first-round bye earned with an undefeated season, opened with a strong first quarter that saw Kalil Baker make three 3-pointers and Toyaz Solomon added two more.

The hot-shooting, 10 of 17 from the floor, gave the Jaguars a 26-12 lead after the opening frame. But Plymouth (16-7) would storm back with dominant second quarter to make things interesting heading into halftime.

RMP made just two shots in the second quarter, and couldn’t find ways to defend the Vikings, who poured in 19 points to cut their deficit to 35-31 at the break.

“By halftime Coach got on us about defensive intensity, rebounding, our shot selection, really everything,” said Baker, who scored 20 points. “I’ve been playing ball since I was 3, so I’m used to missing. It’s nothing new. We just had to get back to taking good shots and we were fine.”

The two teams met earlier in the season, a 13-point Jaguars win on Dec. 29. Though the game was nearly two months ago, several RMP players said that they were able to draw on some memories from that game and applied it to Thursday.

“Defense was the big thing,” Benton said. “We learned how they played, and we were able to defend them better this time. Knowing shooters, and what they liked to do helped.”

The Jaguars’ defensive effort held Plymouth to 31 percent shooting (28 of 91), and shut down any attempts at a comeback. By the start of the third quarter, RMP had ditched bad habits and mental mistakes made in the second quarter.

The first six shots went in, Benton ran the floor, and also slapped it on defense. Bryant stretched the floor and Baker controlled the pace. The Jaguars came alive, and the Vikings were helpless during the onslaught.

In all, 27 points poured in from the Jaguars in the quarter on 12 of 19 shooting as the lead ballooned back to 62-45. Benton added eight more points in the final quarter, Solomon scored four more, including two coming from a dunk in the final seconds of the win.

Solomon, a 6-foot-6 wing player, scored a team-high 23 points and made 10 of his 12 shots.

“I just try to contribute anywhere I can,” Solomon said. “Whether it’s outside or inside, I just shoot.”