It might be wise at this point for Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools to invest in a Fayetteville timeshare and pencil in Rocky Mount High for the first full week of March.
For the fourth year in a row, the Gryphons have survived the first week of the NCHSAA 3-A playoffs and advanced to the Eastern Regional semifinals, this time scoring a trip to Fayetteville with a 72-43 victory against Pikeville Aycock on Friday at Rocky Mount High School.
The first-seeded Gryphons’ outside shooting wasn’t there Friday, but their defense made the point moot. Rocky Mount forced No. 12 Aycock into 24 turnovers and never trailed.
“We shot the ball as bad as we possibly could have from the 3-point line, but that’s fine,” Rocky Mount coach Mike Gainey said. “I told the guys, ‘You scored 70-something points, and you did it all within the two.’ That’s what I’m trying to get them focused on.”
In what has become a normal occurrence this season, Rocky Mount (25-2) overwhelmed an opponent with its size. The Gryphons began the game in a 1-2-1-1 full-court press and made the Falcons (15-13) uncomfortable handling the ball.
Aycock committed 15 turnovers before halftime, helping Rocky Mount go on runs of 9-2 and 13-2 in the first half.
Yet, at the break, the Falcons had held their own against Rocky Mount in half-court settings and trailed by a manageable 12 points.
“We talked about that at halftime, is that here we are having played really poorly in the first half, we thought, and to have a chance,” Aycock coach Steve Moats said. “It’s not like we were in the game, but if we had started the third quarter with a run, we could’ve been in this game. It just didn’t happen.”
The Gryphons and Falcons traded baskets for the early part of the third quarter before Rocky Mount put the contest firmly in its favor. M.J. Gainey made two free throws, then Dante Battle dunked. Immanuel King hit a shot, then Moats was forced to call a timeout after the Gryphons earned another stop and Battle scored again to cap an 8-0 run that pushed the lead to 20.
Battle finished with a game-high 20 points, while King and M.J. Gainey added 16 and 13 points, respectively.
Rocky Mount did its damage from close, using its defense to create 19 points off turnovers and prevent the jump-shot-oriented Falcons from staying in the game with 3-pointers.
“We’re probably the longest team that’s going to Fayetteville, I think,” M.J. Gainey said. “With that, it can stop everyone from shooting the deep balls. That’s a blessing.”
Rocky Mount finished the game having shot nearly 52 percent from the field while holding Aycock to 33 percent.
The win was the Gryphons’ 13th straight.
After the Gryphons had sealed the game, the most eventful part of the finish was an exchange of words between the two teams.
Earlier in the game, Aycock’s A.J. Mundle taunted Battle after blocking him. Later, Rocky Mount’s Broderick Caudle took a swipe at Aycock’s Greg Williams for holding him, though both Caudle’s and Mundle’s sequences went unpunished.
With 2:47 to play in the fourth quarter, Aycock’s Michael Williams committed an intentional foul that prevented a breakaway. Battle let Williams know he didn’t care for it, and both players were issued technicals.
“We can’t do that. We can’t do that. We can’t do that,” Mike Gainey said. “We got to stay focused on the game. A lot of them were talking, complaining about the officials and all that. A lot of them got out of it. We’re going to take care of that next week.”
Rocky Mount will play West Craven next Friday for a berth in the regional finals.
“To have that (fourth-straight trip to regionals), to have that legacy that has always been here, I’m proud,” Gainey said. “I’m proud of the kids and the support, the fans. They can love you, they can hate you, but they’ll follow you.”
Rocky Mount High 72
Pikeville Aycock 43
PA 9 10 10 14 – 72
RMH 17 14 18 23 – 43
PA: Michael Williams (15 points); Shakel Powell (11 points); Neil Clark (10 points); A.J. Mundle (6 points); Cody Garris (1 point).
RMH: Dante Battle (20 points); Immanuel King (16 points); M.J. Gainey (13 points); Thomas Cooper, Mason Hines (5 points); Broderick Caudle (4 points); Michael Hines (3 points); Jacquez Jones (2 points).
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz@ rmtelegram.com