FAYETTEVILLE – With his coach seated next to him nodding in agreement, Rocky Mount High point guard Mason Hines felt relieved to be in the press conference room at the Crown Coliseum.
The room is reserved for the winning team, and on a night when his team shot only 36.5 percent from the field, Hines and the Gryphons were fortunate to be in such a position.
Instead of ending the season after arguably their worst shooting game of year, the Gryphons are moving on to the NCHSAA 3-A Eastern Regional championship after a 62-50 victory against West Craven on Friday in the semifinals.
“You look at Rocky Mount’s offense, we stall out for some reason,” Gryphons coach Mike Gainey said. “I don’t know why we stall out. Defense makes things happen.”
With a stagnant offense that shot 31.3 percent from the field in the first half, Rocky Mount (26-2) turned to an unlikely spark.
Although sixth man Broderick Caudle has been coming off the bench all year with more and more success, he was pressed into action when Michael Hines, the Gryphons’ starting small forward, picked up three quick fouls.
Caudle never will be considered a player to shy away from a shot – open or not.
But when nothing seemed to fall for the Gryphons, the team needed such a playmaker.
Down by two points with 4:03 remaining in the third quarter, Caudle hit a pair of free throws. Two possessions later, his layup put top-seeded Rocky Mount ahead by four.
He hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the final two minutes to give the Gryphons an 8-point lead, their largest lead of the second half.
Rocky Mount went on a 14-4 run, and Caudle scored 10 of his game-high 15 points in just 3:30.
“That’s our sixth man coming off the bench scoring 15 points,” Gainey said. “When you have guys that can step in and help the starters out, it makes you a whole lot better. … He’s very quick, and he’s just a sophomore.”
No. 3 West Craven (25-5), a team Rocky Mount defeated in last year’s Eastern Regional semifinals as well, never pulled closer than five points the rest of the way.
“It’s time to get rolling,” Gainey said, “It’s time to do what you’re supposed to do and great things will happen. It did. It showed up. We try to build everything on defense. … That’s what we need. That’s what makes Rocky Mount go.”
Rocky Mount won its 13th straight game despite inaccurate shooting.
Guard M.J. Gainey missed all seven attempts from the field in the first half.
Hines, who had 12 points, seven steals and six assists, saw positives and negatives from the team’s performance.
“I know we are capable of shooting and scoring a whole lot better than we did,” he said. “But the positive side of that, we forced turnovers that kept us in the game and down by one at halftime, even with our worst shooting game.
“If we can shoot like that and still pull out a game by 10, 11, 12, who can imagine what we can do if we shoot 50 percent, 55 percent or normal? We’d be blowing out teams.”
Rocky Mount, which forced 23 turnovers, will face No. 4 Oxford Webb in the Eastern Regional championship at 6 tonight inside the Crown Coliseum.
The winner will represent Eastern North Carolina in the 3-A state championship next weekend in Raleigh.
“We’re just glad to be back,” Gainey said. “As hard as we played … we never shot that bad. But the outcome was we still won the game. We’re at peace with that.”
Rocky Mount High 62 West Craven 50 WC 10 18 11 11 – 50 RMH 17 10 18 17 – 62 WC: Josh Cuthbertson (18 points); Demetres Abrrams (16 points); Alkeim Harley (8 points); Tyrone Brown (6 points); Zac Cuthbertson (2 points). RMH: Broderick Caudle (15 points); Mason Hines (12 points); Michael Hines (11 points); M.J. Gainey (8 points); Dante Battle (7 points); Immanuel King (5 points); Ahmad Harrell (2 points); Jaquell Bryant (2 points).
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or email@example.com