Rocky Mount High's Immanuel King, center, drives to the basket between Southern Nash's Tahj Deans, left, and Aaron Newkirk during the championship game of the Nash County Christmas Tournament Thursday at Northern Nash High School.

Telegram photo / Alan Campbell

Rocky Mount High's Immanuel King, center, drives to the basket between Southern Nash's Tahj Deans, left, and Aaron Newkirk during the championship game of the Nash County Christmas Tournament Thursday at Northern Nash High School.

Gryphons win Christmas tourney boys' title

By Nick Piotrowicz

Sports Writer

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Southern Nash was well aware that Rocky Mount High’s trio of big men and guard Isaiah Alston would be a major problem.

The Firebirds devised a plan to lessen the disadvantage, but it just wasn’t happening for Southern Nash in the championship game of the Nash County Christmas Tournament on Thursday at Northern Nash High School.

The Firebirds’ shots weren’t falling, the Gryphons’ 2-3 zone was dominant and all four of Rocky Mount’s key players scored in double figures as the Gryphons rolled to a 73-42 victory.

“We had to make shots. We knew we had to make shots, and we had to rebound,” Southern Nash coach Robbie Kennedy said. “The plan was to make some shots early and get them to play us man (defense), spread ’em out, and get ’em out of the paint. We didn’t make shots, and they just killed us on the boards.”

The Firebirds’ hope to shoot their way into contention quickly faded. Southern Nash (4-8) made six field goals in the first half as the Gryphons made runs of 8-0 and 13-0 to take a 22-point lead into halftime.

Rocky Mount scored 21 points of offensive rebounds.At the break, Rocky Mount had as many second-chance points (16) as Southern Nash had total points.

“As big as we are in the frontcourt, we have to do that,” Rocky Mount coach Mike Gainey said. “We got to use what we have. Our frontcourt is pretty strong, man.”

Jaquell Bryant scored 11 points, Immanuel King added 10 and Dante Battle scored 12 points in addition to being named tournament MVP.

Alston scored a game-high 15 points for Rocky Mount.

The Gryphons, who have been a strictly man-to-man team in past years, are finding success with their 2-3 zone. Their size forces teams to become jump shooters and many opponents – like the Firebirds on Thursday – see a steady stream of one-and-done possessions.

“It’s kind of different because we’ve never had three bigs that can play like me,” Battle said. “We’re just testing it out right now because we’re long. Nobody can shoot over it.”

Seeing their Big East Conference competition let the Gryphons know their chances are good this season.

“We just learned that if we play hard and play as a team,” Battle said, “we know we can’t be stopped.”

Rocky Mount High 73 
Southern Nash 42 

RMH        23 15 19 16 73
SN           10 6 11 15 42
RMH: Isaiah Alston (15 points); Dante Battle (12 points);  Jaquell Bryant (11 points); Immanuel King (10 points); Broderick Caudle (9 points); Kenaz Cooper (3 points); Blake Helms (3 points); Amir Pittman (3 points); Jaquez Jones (2 points); Raheem Taylor (2 points); Fornay Lee (2 points).
SN: Emmanual Merriweather (9 points); Deon Lavender (7 points); Aaron Newkirk (5 points); Marquise Wright (5 points); Tahj Deans (4 points); Buddy Settles (4 points); Garrett Jones (3 points); Corey Schulz (2 points); Leon Oates (2 points); Josh Raynor (1 point).
 
CONSOLATION
Northern Nash 57 
Nash Central 47 
NC           18 12 9 8 47
NN           21 14 9 13 57
NC: Aaron Spivey (16 points); Jordan Conyers (12 points); Daniel Pittman (10 points); Houshun Gaines (5 points); Chris Alston (2 points); Jack Williams (2 points).
NN: Marcellus Major (15 points); Isaac Dupree (12 points); Demonte Johnson (12 points); Kendrick Richardson (10 points); Paul Cherry (8 points).

Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz@rmtelegram.com