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Gryphons lose in tournament championship game

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Rocky Mount High’s Summer Hicks, left, collides into Hunt’s Dylia Lucas Friday during the Big East Tournament at the Rocky Mount Event Center.

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By PATRICK MASON
Sports Writer

Friday, February 22, 2019

The Rocky Mount High girls’ basketball team had Wilson Hunt on the ropes. Then the Gryphons switched to a zone defense.

Warriors forward Imani Sutton took advantage of the extra space and went off on a sizzling shooting display in the third quarter. It was an eight-minute stretch that the Gryphons couldn’t recover from on their way to a 49-38 loss in the Big East Conference tournament championship game on Friday.

“I thought we did a good job of playing man-to-man defense early,” Gryphons coach Pam Gainey said. “Then we went to zone and fell asleep during a couple of spots. You have to recognize who the shooters are and where the soft spots are and we didn’t do that.”

Foul trouble forced the Gryphons to abandon the man defense, and that’s when Sutton had her way. She scored 13 of her game-high 23 points in the third quarter, and before Hunt guard Bria Griffith added a free throw and a basket late in the frame, Sutton was the only Hunt player to score in the quarter.

She made three 3-pointers and finished with a pair of layups. The scoring outburst out of halftime helped cut into RMH’s lead, before Hunt (20-3) built one of its own.

The Gryphons (18-7) used a 7-0 run to open the second quarter to take its largest lead of the game at 18-12. It wasn’t until 3:06 remained in the quarter that Hunt scored its first points. The Warriors would score four points by the end of quarter as RMH took a 20-16 lead into halftime.

“It hurts a little because we had them,” Gryphons guard Mya Pittman said. “But in the second half, the mistakes we made we shouldn’t have made.”

RMH scored six points in the third, and made just two baskets — both from Pittman — while Hunt collected 16 points. In the fourth quarter, the Gryphons allowed just one basket, but handed out a rash of fouls.

By game’s end, three of the Gryphons’ starters had four fouls, and another, Moore, had three.

“Our scorers were in foul trouble,” Gainey said. “You miss a rotation and someone tries to cover for you and they get in foul trouble. We have to recognize that and have to play with a type of assertiveness where you can play your own position.

“We were not able to do that in the second half.”

The Warriors made 15 of their 19 free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter, keeping the Gryphons at arm’s length in the process.

Pittman finished with a team-high 14 points. Alexis Moore added nine points, and Jada Morris scored nine points and pulled down 11 rebounds.

Top-seeded Hunt, which finished the conference schedule with a 9-1 record, won the title over a second-seeded Gryphons team that went 6-4 in conference play, but had won five consecutive games before Friday’s loss.

RMH enjoyed a strong finish to a regular season that had its peaks and valleys. The Gryphons won two tournaments over winter break, but struggled at the start of conference play with a 2-4 start.

The recent stretch of wins signaled a turning point, closing the season by winning six of the past seven games. The lone loss during that stretch was to Hunt, which beat the Gryphons in all three meetings this season.

“Either I’m going to have my way or you’re going to have your way,” Gainey said. “And they got their way tonight. It’s been herky jerky all season and it wasn’t pretty how we got here, but we still got here.”

Both teams will await Saturday’s playoff seeding process to learn of their first-round opponent.

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