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Gryphons lose late lead in first round of Big East tournament

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Rocky Mount High's Isaiah Miller, right, drives to the basket for a layup as Wilson Hunt's Davon Jones trails Monday during the Big East Conference Tournament at Rocky Mount High School.

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BY SAMUEL EVERS
Sports Writer

Monday, February 18, 2019

For Rocky Mount High basketball, it was a different game but the same story.

Entering Monday, the Gryphons (13-10, 3-8) had lost seven of their 10 conference games, with six of those being by six points or fewer, including one- and two-point losses to Big East opponent Wilson Hunt.

Looking to break free from the redundancy at home against the Warriors (14-8, 6-5) Monday night in the first round of the Big East tournament, the Gryphons fought back from an early deficit, only to blow another late lead, eventually falling, 77-72, with a buzzer-beating breakaway dunk by Hunt’s Zion May serving as the exclamation point.

RMHS had the lead as late as the two-minute mark.

“That’s been our whole season, everything comes down at the end,” RMHS coach Michael Gainey said. “We just can’t finish, layup, free throws, missed defensive assignments. Stuff like that’ll get you beat.”

From down by as many as nine points in the first half, Rocky Mount High rallied to trail by only two points going into the second half; they finally grabbed a lead, at 52-51, with 1:08 left in the third, and led by as many as five early in the fourth quarter.

With 2:40 left in the game, Victor Ward, a senior who led the Gryphons with 25 points and provided a steady hand throughout the game, made a short jumper to give the Gryphons a 67-65 lead.

But on the very next possession, Hunt’s TiQuez Taylor hit a 3-pointer — the Warriors finished with nine made 3-pointers — that gave them back the lead for good. From there, the Gryphons missed two of three free throws while the Warriors made three of four, holding on to close out another game RMHS couldn’t.

“There’s nothing you can do,” Gainey said. “It’s all about the will and the want. Our position is to put them in position to win. When we do that, we sleep well at night. It’s up to them to play. We can’t make free throws, shoot layups, box out.”

Aside from Ward, Keeshawn Silver came off the bench to give the Gryphons a spark in the first half. The 6-foot-5 center finished the first 16 minutes with 14 points and four blocks, including a possession where he blocked three consecutive shots. Silver finished with 17 points but missed a large portion of the second half in foul trouble.

With the victory, Wilson Hunt plays Northern Nash at 7:30 p.m.  on Wednesday at the Rocky Mount Event Center, while Rocky Mount High will have to await its postseason fate.

For Gainey, who sat out a portion of the season with a medical issue, Monday perhaps brought to an end one of the more trying seasons in his long tenure.

It was another close loss, but at least he on the sidelines to coach it, he said.

“With me having surgery, getting tumors removed, it’s just been all off balance,” he said. “But I’m happy to be here.”

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