WILSON – Carmen Richardson wrapped her arms around J’Kyra Brown, leaned in and asked if Brown was ready.
Just over Richardson’s left shoulder, a wave of teammates were rushing toward the pair of Rocky Mount High seniors.
They braced for impact as a giant pile of blue and gold engulfed and buried them near center court at Wilson Hunt High School.
The pair combined for all seven of the Gryphons’ points in overtime as Rocky Mount finally beat Northern Nash, 51-47, in the girls’ Big East Conference Tournament Championship, handing its biggest rival its first loss of the season.
“We won this. We did it right,” Richardson said of the entire team effort. “We did it right to hold together.”
Brown hit a deep 3-pointer from the wing with 50 seconds to play in regulation to bring Rocky Mount (16-9) even with Northern Nash headed into the extra period.
Brown hit an early layup before Richardson hit a mid-range jumper from the baseline.
The duo went 3-for-4 from the free-throw line in the final 13 seconds to clinch a much-needed victory after losing three times to Northern Nash (21-1) earlier this season.
“We needed this win headed into the playoffs,” Richardson said. “These tournament games, we needed them.”
Rocky Mount High will be the conference’s No. 2 seed in the state playoffs, while Northern Nash will hold on to the top seed.
“We’re just trying to get better each game we play,” Rocky Mount High coach Pam Gainey said. “They’re a tough team, and every time we play against them, there’s an opportunity for us to grow.”
The Gryphons scored just three points in the first quarter but put themselves back in position with a team-oriented second quarter.
Brown scored 11 points, Richardson added five points, but Sakeya Battle came up with important layups and hit two big free throws during the second quarter. She scored all six of her points in the period.
“Every game is a big game for me,” Gainey said. “The thing I told them (Friday), is we wanted them to do things that they were capable of.
“That’s our goal every time we step out. Every time, it’s for each individual to do things that they’re capable of for the team.”
Brown, who was named tournament MVP, finished with 27 points, and Richardson had nine – all in the second quarter or overtime.
Alexus Hill scored 15 points to lead Northern Nash, which committed nearly 20 turnovers.
“It’s probably a good loss,” Northern Nash coach Grover Battle said. “You don’t want to lose to anybody. ... We had them put away in the first half.
“We allowed them to come back in the game.”
Gryphons forward Kelsey Daniels knocked down the first free throw of the game, giving Rocky Mount its first lead.
The Gryphons’ second lead didn’t come until Brown knocked down a 3-pointer from the wing with two minutes to play in the third quarter.
Northern Nash led by as many as nine points in the first half before Rocky Mount tied the score at 25 heading into halftime.
“The whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” Gainey said. “It’s just getting them to believe that. That’s what team is all about. That’s just kind of my angle all the time.”
Northern Nash struggled against Rocky Mount’s zone defense early and failed to capitalize in the final minutes of regulation against the Gryphons’ man-to-man defense.
Northern Nash turned over the ball three times in the final two minutes, including with three seconds to play and a chance to win the game.
When Brown went down with a knee injury during the conference season, Rocky Mount was forced to change. They were forced to grow as a team.
“We have to keep growing,” Richardson said.
No. 3 Rocky Mount High 51 No. 1 Northern Nash 47 RMH 3 22 10 9 7 – 51 NN 10 15 8 11 3 – 47 RMH: J’Kyra Brown (27 points); Carmen Richardson (9 points); Sakeya Battle (6 points); Takeyra Thomas (6 points); Kelsey Daniels (3 points). NN: Alexus Hill (15 points); Shakyia Mercer (10 points); Camille Branch (8 points); Quinesha Lynch (8 points); Jordan Oldham (4 points); Alexia Hines (2 points)
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or email@example.com