WILSON – Before Wednesday night’s Big East Conference Tournament semifinals, Rocky Mount High coach Mike Gainey challenged his big men.
He wanted them to hit the glass. He needed his star center to come out of his shell a join the rest of the team.
Dante Battle didn’t wait long to show his coach he was there.
Battle scored eight of his game-high 18 points, in the first quarter as Rocky Mount cruised to a 73-52 victory against Nash Central in the game played at Wilson Hunt High School.
It was the third time the Gryphons defeated their rival this season.
“We’re trying to get ready for the playoffs,” Gainey said. “We have to get stronger inside. We have to play our game. We’re not controlling the boards like we should. ... If we control the boards like we’re supposed to, everything will happen for us.”
Second-seeded Rocky Mount High (21-2) went inside to Battle early, and as a result, he found open teammates. The Gryphons knocked down four 3-pointers in the first quarter alone.
“That’s how our offense works,” Battle said. “We work inside-out. When I do my thing, everybody else can have fun.”
Rocky Mount had its inside game and its outside game, but not until the third facet of the Gryphons’ attack was in sync were they able to pull away from No. 3 seed Nash Central (13-9).
Ahead by nine points at the halftime break, Rocky Mount’s pressure defense started the second half with an 11-0 run.
“We were careless with the ball,” said Nash Central coach Renny Taylor, who was very pleased with his team’s play in the first half. “They did a little run and jump, which we had practiced. You practice for it, you practice for it then all of a sudden you put people in the stands and maybe guys aren’t ready for it. ... We turned it over for easy buckets, then all of a sudden we’re down 13. We hung our heads then.”
Once Nash Central scored its first point of the second half – a jumper by Cole Smith – Rocky Mount was ahead by 20 and there was only three minutes to play before the fourth quarter.
Nash Central never closed within 18 points.
Rocky Mount will play Wilson Hunt at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the boys’ championship game. The two teams played twice during the regular season, splitting the contests.
Wilson Hunt defeated Rocky Mount in the first meeting, and a buzzer-beater by M.J. Gainey gave the Gryphons’ a victory in Wilson later in the season.
Battle knows that he’ll need a similar start Friday to the one he had Wednesday.
“I need to mature and come up faster,” Battle said. “If I keep starting off slow against good teams, we’ll lose and I’ll get pounded.”
No.2 Rocky Mount High 73
No. 3 Nash Central 52
NC 10 16 6 20 – 52
RMH 22 13 16 22 – 73
NC: Jaquan Wilkins (15 points); Cole Smith (12 points); Wendell Hunter (10 points); Nathaniel Pittman (9 points); Daniel Pittman (4 points); L.J. Porcher (2 points).
RMH: Dante Battle (18 points); Michael Hines (13 points); Broderick Caudle (12 points); M.J. Gainey (10 points); Mason Hines (7 points); Immanuel King (4 points); Jaequez Jones (4 points); Kenaz Cooper (3 points); Jaquell Bryant (2 points).
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or firstname.lastname@example.org