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Games set: Big East Conference tournament ready to tip

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Southern Nash's Chris Allen, right, eyes Northern Nash's Henry Richardson, left, as Northern Nash's Davontae Wiggins, back, also defends Tuesday during the game at Northern Nash High School.

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By PATRICK MASON
Sports Writer

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Northern Nash boys’ basketball team on Friday completed its third consecutive 10-0 record in Big East Conference play. And while each of the past three undefeated conference runs featured dominant stretches from talented Knights teams, coach Henry Drake noticed an edge this season that wasn’t there before.

It likely stems from an early exit in the second round of last season’s postseason as the 3-A East’s second-seeded team, Drake said.

“What I liked about this season is what they probably didn’t have last season — mental toughness and experience,” Drake said. “It comes from the way we finished last year. We had close games in the conference and we were able to win those games, but we didn’t have that mental toughness. It takes a year to get that and the kids accepted and embraced it.”

The Big East Conference on Saturday released pairings for its boys’ and girls’ basketball tournament which begins on Monday, and Northern Nash (22-1, 10-0) owns the top seed. The Knights are hoping the tournament will be a valuable tuneup before the playoffs begin next week.

The opening rounds of the tournament will be held Monday and Wednesday, with the championship games held on Friday. The games will be split between two locations — Rocky Mount High and the downtown event center, with the girls’ games tipping off at 6 p.m. and the boys at 7:30 p.m. each night.

In the girls’ bracket, Wilson Hunt and its 9-1 conference record is the top seed, followed by No. 2 Rocky Mount High (6-4), No. 3 Franklinton (5-5), No. 4 Wilson Fike (5-5), No. 5 Northern Nash (5-5) and No. 6 Southern Nash (0-10).

The bracket is wide open, as the Knights were the lone team to hand Hunt a loss and almost did it again in the season finale. Also, three teams have identical records, while the Gryphons came on strong at the end of the season to win four straight.

Southern Nash, despite going winless in conference, has a pair of one-point losses and has been competitive in a number of league games.

For the boys, top-seeded Northern Nash and No. 2 Southern Nash have the top two seeds. Wilson Fike is No. 3, Hunt No. 4, RMH No. 5, and Franklinton No. 6.

The Firebirds closed the season strong with three consecutive wins, including a double-overtime victory over RMH. The top two seeds receive first-round byes and will play their first tournament games on Wednesday.

Like the tight girls’ conference season, many of the boys’ games were competitive. Don’t expect Northern Nash to run away with this. The Knights get either Hunt or RMH on Wednesday, two teams that gave the Knights the most trouble this season. A Friday matchup with Southern Nash is possible, too.

Hunt lost to the Knights twice by a total of six points (three each time, including Friday’s regular-season finale), while Southern Nash lost by five points on Jan. 29. Also, in typical rivalry fashion, Rocky Mount High challenged the Knights twice. The Gryphons lost by 10 in the first meeting after pulling even at halftime, and lost by five on Feb. 8.

“This conference is full of veteran coaches and talented teams,” Drake said. “I always tell the guys that this is the toughest conference in the state, and that this is anybody’s tournament. Anybody is capable of winning this. This is going to be a fun tournament and it’s going to be interesting.”

Big East Conference tournament

Monday’s games

Girls, 6 p.m.

At RM Event Center

No. 3 Franklinton (5-5) vs. No. 6 Southern Nash (0-10)

At Rocky Mount High

No. 4 Wilson Fike (5-5) vs. No. 5 Northern Nash (5-5)

Boys, 7:30 p.m.

At RM Event Center

No. 3 Wilson Fike (6-4) vs. No. 6 Franklinton (0-10)

At Rocky Mount High

No. 4 Wilson Hunt (5-5) vs. No. 5 Rocky Mount High (3-7)

Wednesday’s games

Girls, 6 p.m.

At RM Event Center

No. 1 Wilson Hunt (9-1) vs. winner of Fike/Northern Nash

At Rocky Mount High

No. 2 Rocky Mount High (6-4) vs. winner of Franklinton/Southern Nash

Boys, 7:30 p.m.

At RM Event Center

No. 1 Northern Nash (10-0) vs. Hunt/Rocky Mount High

At Rocky Mount High

No. 2 Southern Nash (6-4) vs. Fike/Franklinton

Eastern Plains Conference tournament

Girls

Monday’s games

At North Pitt

No. 4 North Johnston vs. No. 5 Wilson Beddingfield, 6 p.m.

No. 3 North Pitt vs. No. 6 Nash Central, 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday’s games

At Farmville Central

No. 1 Farmville Central vs. North Johnston/Beddingfield, 6 p.m.

At Nash Central

No. 2 SouthWest Edgecombe vs. North Pitt/Nash Central, 6 p.m.

Boys

Monday’s games

At SouthWest Edgecombe

No. 4 Wilson Beddingfield vs. No. 5 North Pitt, 6 p.m.

No. 3 SouthWest Edgecombe vs. No. 6 North Johnston, 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday’s games

At Farmville Central

No. 1 Farmville Central vs. Beddingfield/North Pitt, 7:30 p.m.

At Nash Central

No. 2 Nash Central vs. SouthWest Edgecombe/North Johnston, 7:30 p.m.

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