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Head-to-head: Basketball postseason pairings set; tournament starts Tuesday

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Northern Nash’s Darquez Flowers, left, dribbles past Wilson Fike's Kavaris Evans during the Big East Conference tournament championship game. The 24-1 Knights earned the No. 2 seed in the Class 3A East bracket.

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By PATRICK MASON
Sports Writer

Saturday, February 23, 2019

The NCHSAA on Saturday released its pairings for the prep basketball postseason.

Eight boys’ teams made the bracket, including Northern Nash, which earned the highest seed of any local team at No. 2 in the Class 3-A East bracket.

As for the girls, just three teams advanced. Left out was Northern Nash, which at one point in the conference schedule was tied for the Big East Conference lead through six games.

Here’s a look at the first-round games, which begin on Tuesday.

Boys

Class 1-A

No. 20 Tarboro (14-9) at No. 13 North Edgecombe (11-11)

Last season’s finish: Tarboro, 13-10, lost in the second round to Pamlico County. North Edgecombe, 11-10, lost in first round to Northside-Pinetown.

Analysis: This is the lone first-round matchup featuring two local teams. Tarboro finished fourth in the Coastal Plains Conference and lost four of its final five games. The Vikings, however, won two out of the three regular season matchups with North Edgecombe.

The Warriors, meanwhile, won the most recent meeting with Tarboro, a 79-65 victory on Jan. 18. The first two losses to the Vikings came a week apart on Dec. 21 and Dec. 28.

No. 19 Rocky Mount Prep (11-12) at No. 14 Rosewood (14-8)

Last season’s finish: Rocky Mount Prep, 25-1, lost in the state semifinals to Pamlico County. Rosewood, 17-8, lost in second round to Granville Central.

Analysis: Rocky Mount Prep had a magical run in last season’s 1-A playoffs, taking an undefeated 25-0 record into the fourth round where the top-seeded Jaguars were downed by Pamlico County. This year’s squad lost a trio of top performers to graduation and transfers, but still retain Sam Benton and Trevor Batchelor, two scoring guards who have carried the load.

The Jaguars are a dangerous team, and have a chance to collect a few upset wins.

Class 2-A

No. 25 SouthWest Edgecombe (14-13) at No. 8 Southwest Onslow (14-9)

Last season’s finish: SouthWest Edgecombe, 5-16, did not make the postseason. Southwest Onslow, 14-13, lost in the third round to Clinton.

Analysis: SouthWest Edgecombe finished third in the Eastern Plains Conference this year, and needed a strong showing in the conference tournament to solidify a spot in the postseason. The Cougars got just that, and advanced to the conference championship game where it lost to the 2A East’s top seed in Farmville Central, which ran off an undefeated season.

The Cougars have a wealth of height and talented guards, and could pose a problem to unfamiliar teams.

No. 19 Carrboro (16-8) at No. 15 Nash Central (9-15)

Last season’s finish: Nash Central, 16-11, lost in first round to North Pitt. Carrboro, 19-9, lost in second round to Farmville Central.

(Nash Central received an automatic bid based on conference record, while Carrboro made the tournament as an at-large team, hence the difference in record in this matchup.)

Analysis: As the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Plains Conference tournament, Nash Central was upset in the semifinal round. The Bulldogs, however, played a strong second half and forced overtime after falling behind by a large margin. The Bulldogs’ scoring, led by Chris High’s 12.5 points per game, features a trio of players that average double figures. Putting up points hasn’t been a problem for the Bulldogs, who, if they can play sound defense, could be a tough team to knock out.

Coach Renny Taylor said that his team’s defense is built for playing a halfcourt game, and is proficient in slowing down teams that run a lot of set plays.

Class 3-A

No. 26 Rocky Mount High (13-10) at No. 7 East Wake (19-6)

Last season’s finish: Rocky Mount High, 19-6, lost in the second round to Northern Durham. East Wake, 14-12, lost in the second round to Northside-Jacksonville.

Analysis: Rocky Mount High had trouble maneuvering through a top-heavy Big East Conference and finished with a 3-7 record. The Gryphons, however, played the conference-winner and the East’s No. 2 seed Northern Nash tight in a pair of games, and with their athletic team, caused problems for a number of opponents.

RMH, led by Victor Ward, has a tough test in the opening round against an East Wake team that has won four of its last five games, and features two high scorers before a drop off on the rest of the roster.

No. 25 Southern Nash (14-9) at No. 8 West Carteret (19-5)

Last season’s finish: Southern Nash, 14-11, lost in the first round to Greenville Rose. West Carteret, 13-8, did not make the postseason.

Analysis: Southern Nash finished third in the Big East Conference standings at 6-4 after losing a tiebreaker to Wilson Fike. Rocky Mount High, which finished 3-7 in the conference, was seeded one spot lower at 26. The margin of difference between the two teams is slim on the state stage.

In any case, the Firebirds, who had the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament, will likely play each game on the road barring any big upsets. Darius Edmundson (16.4) leads a deep team that has six players averaging five points or more per game.

No. 31 Havelock (12-11) at No. 2 Northern Nash (24-1)

Last season’s finish: Northern Nash, 24-2, lost in the second round to Fayetteville-Westover. Havelock, 12-12, lost in the first round to Northern Guilford.

Analysis: The second consecutive season with a No. 2 seed in the 3-A East, Northern Nash will look to make a deep run in the postseason after an early exit last year. The Knights narrowly escaped an upset in the first round, then succumbed in the second round with a one-point loss.

This season’s Knights team has won 24 consecutive games, collected a pair of Christmas tournament championships and won the Big East Conference tournament. Coach Henry Drake believes his team learned a lesson from the early exit a season ago, and his statement hasn’t been proved wrong during a dominant run this season.

The Knights have 3-point shooting, capable guards that can dish and score, forwards that can shoot and play near the basket, and a dependable defense. Northern Nash is one of three one-loss teams in the 3-A East, and will be a handful for any team traveling to its rowdy gymnasium.

Girls

Class 1-A

No. 22 Tarboro (13-12) at No. 11 Edenton Holmes (16-9)

Last season’s finish: Tarboro, 9-13, did not make the postseason. Holmes, 11-12, lost in the third round to Weldon.

Analysis: Tarboro lost five of its final six games of the season, but kept itself afloat with solid play during the middle portion of the season. The Vikings had win streaks of three, two and fives games at different parts of the year, and its only other losing streak besides the four-gamer at the end of the season was a three-game skid from Jan. 11 to Jan. 14.

Edenton Holmes won four of its final five games, losing in the Albemarle Conference tournament championship game.

Class 2A

No. 18 Hertford County (12-13) at No. 15 SouthWest Edgecombe (19-6)

Last season’s finish: SouthWest Edgecombe, 13-10, lost to Bartlett Yancey in the second round. Hertford County, 11-14, lost in the first round to East Bladen.

Analysis: SouthWest Edgecombe had a rare off-night shooting the basketball during the semifinals of the Eastern Plains Conference tournament, and was upset as the No. 2 seed. The Cougars came back and made the game interesting, though the lack of points early on proved to be enough of a hindrance that a comeback wasn’t possible.

Barring another cold shooting night, the Cougars will be a force in the 2-A playoffs. Bailey Davis is averaging 16.1 points and is one of the better shooters around, while point guard Jada Battle has a strong dribble and a command of the floor. SWE played in a conference with world-beaters Farmville Central, which proved to be the lone thorn in the side of what was a strong season.

SWE is a dangerous 15-seed, and will present problems for opposing teams with its wealth of scoring options.

Class 3-A

No. 17 Harnett Central (18-6) at No. 16 Rocky Mount High (18-7)

Last season’s finish: Rocky Mount High, 13-12, lost in the first round to New Hanover. Harnett Central, 21-5, lost in second round to Eastern Guilford.

Analysis: Rocky Mount High won a pair of Christmas tournaments, fell into a slump in the middle of the season, then powered home by winning five consecutive games before dropping the Big East Conference tournament championship game to Wilson Hunt.

When the Gryphons are playing well, they can hang with anyone, as evidenced by Friday’s tournament final against the 19-3 Warriors. Coach Pam Gainey said the team has a few aspects of its games to clean up, but is feeling good about the promising stretch the Gryphons mounted at the end of the season.

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