RMP loses first game of season in East Regional
By PATRICK MASON
Saturday, March 3, 2018
FAYETTEVILLE — Jolly Manning felt lucky.
The Rocky Mount Prep boys’ basketball coach, in his 13th year coaching various levels at the school, felt lucky — even in the toughest moment of the season.
The Jaguars lost for the first time this season as third-seeded Pamlico County did what no other team could and knocked off the previously unbeaten and top-seeded Jaguars, 82-57, in the NCHSAA 1-A East Regional on Saturday at Capel Arena on the campus of Fayetteville State University.
“I’m extremely proud of my guys,” Manning said. “My guys don’t like losing, and we’re taking this kind of hard. I coached these guys in middle school and I saw this day five years ago.
“I just appreciate living life for another day, watching this guys grow from middle school to high school, from boys to men, was the best thing. In the classroom as well as the court, knowing they’re fine young men, they’re gentlemen, they’re very, very poised at all times -- that’s all I’ve got to ask for as a coach. Winning is about your attitude, not about the scoreboard.”
The longtime coach bursted with pride, but looked tired. His sport coat tossed aside and his purple buttoned shirt untucked as he sat in a makeshift interview room on the second level of the sports complex. It wasn’t the 90-minute bus ride or the unfamiliar, spacious gym. It certainly wasn’t the moment.
Manning and the Jaguars simply couldn’t get comfortable as the game progressed. RMP (25-1) started out quick, seizing the moment and taking advantage of an energized crowd. A 14-4 run to start, backed by 3-pointers from Trevor Batchelor and Sam Benton, had the Jaguars in good shape early.
But foul trouble soon began to spread across the lineup, and no one was immune. Batchelor had three fouls in the first half and had to spend time on the bench for stretches. Kalil Baker, the team’s leading scorer, picked up his fourth foul when he was called for a charge on the opening possession of the third quarter.
Baker never left the floor, but was effectively a non-factor on defense as he was one whistle away fouling out.
“We subbed the best way we could,” said Manning, who dipped into his bench for the just the second time this postseason. “We left Kalil on the floor, and he couldn’t really get comfortable. The guys couldn’t get into their groove due to the fact that they were in foul trouble.”
Pamlico County (22-5) took advantage of this in a number of ways. With Batchelor off the floor in the second quarter, the Hurricanes went to work. They grabbed their first lead of the game with 3:45 left in the second quarter during a monster 20-6 run that the Jaguars never recovered from.
RMP never led again, but drew within one point several times. In the third quarter, with Baker shouldering four fouls, Pamlico County guard Lamont Murray took Baker to the basket each trip down the floor.
Knowing Baker, who finished with a game-high 21 points, was the Jaguars’ engine and best chance to lead a comeback, Murray tried to take Baker out of the game.
“He had four fouls so I was trying to get him out of the game so it would be an easier game for us,” Murray said. “So I tried to attack.”
Murray finished with a team-high 20 points, 12 of which came in the second half.
Pamlico County coach Earl Sadler Jr. had a feeling a final push from RMP was on its way in the final minutes. Sadler huddled with his team late in the game, warning his players to not count out the Jaguars. He knew better. The Jaguars hadn’t lost a game all season, after all.
“With about three minutes to go I figured they had one more punch left,” Sadler said. “We knew if we could withstand one more final push we were going to be in good shape.”
That punch never came as the Hurricanes finished the game on an 18-0 run. The closest RMP got in the fourth quarter was to trail by one point at 51-50 with 6:35 left. The teams would part ways from there, with the Hurricanes finding 31 more points before the final buzzer.
“We just had a bad game for us and didn't play great defense,” Batchelor said. “We didn’t play great help defense because of foul trouble, and we had to play safe. That’s on us.”