Northern Nash ran on to the basketball court Thursday night wearing the Nash County Christmas Tournament champion T-shirts it won a year earlier.
It might have been a bit presumptuous for some, since the Knights were warming up to face Rocky Mount High in this year’s Nash County Christmas Tournament, but for the Northern Nash girls’ basketball team, it seemed right.
Four quarters later – although competitive for only three – Northern Nash earned another set of T-shirts with a 55-41 victory, winning its third straight Christmas Tournament at Northern Nash High School.
“I just told (my teammates), ‘We want to show them what we’re trying to get,’” said senior guard Alexus Hill, who was named the tournament’s MVP. “So, we’re going to wear it out there and show them what we’re working for. When you work hard, you get it, and that’s what we did.”
Despite falling behind early, the Knights (9-1) rallied to win their third straight title, having claimed more than half of the tournament championships since its inception.
“Most of the time we’re in it, and most of the time we win it,” Northern Nash coach Grover Battle said. “ ... We’ve been pretty successful in it.”
Rocky Mount (5-3), which knocked Northern Nash out of the playoffs last year, took a quick nine-point lead before the Knights even scored a point.
After staying quiet for four minutes, the Knights made a quick adjustment, engaged their press and went on a 20-2 run during the next eight minutes.
From down nine points to ahead by nine, Northern Nash showed why it can call itself the queens of Christmas in Nash County.
“We like the excitement, the excitement of people thinking, ‘They’re playing Rocky Mount, and they’re going to lose,’” said Hill, who scored a game-high 25 points. “We just like the excitement to show people what we can do and what to expect.”
Part of what hurt Rocky Mount was what it couldn’t expect.
While the Gryphons went 10-for-28 from the free-throw line, coach Pam Gainey said her experienced backcourt struggled at key moments in the game.
“There were some times in some crucial situations when I thought our experience could have made better decisions,” she said. “There was a little too much fumbling and miscommunication going on for us to have two senior guards.”
Gainey pointed to the fact that former All-State guard J’Kyra Brown had graduated, and the Gryphons will have to find a way to make plays in big moments, something Brown spent her entire career doing – especially against Northern Nash.
“That’s because of self discipline,” Gainey said of the errors. “Either you pay attention or you don’t.
“It’s ugly, but that’s what it boils down to.”
Northern Nash has its own set of playmakers.
Hill, who scored 15 points in the second half, has stepped to the spotlight, and transfer forward Kiana Thomas has given the Knights something they haven’t had in a while – touch around the basket from a frontcourt player.
“The girls believe in her a whole lot,” Battle said. “She (has) been a real plus for us. I hope to continue smiling that she’s here.”
Thomas, who was named to the All-Tournament team, scored 14 points.