Gibson Russell had his head bounced off the floor. Andrew Weatherly spent as much time on the ground diving after the ball as he did dribbling it. Adam Bayless had a cut above his right eye and blood on his jersey like he had gone eight rounds with Lennox Lewis.
Rocky Mount Academy earned a 72-64 win against Henderson Kerr-Vance on Friday at Rocky Mount Academy, and it has its toughness to thank.
“That’s the only way we can win,” Rocky Mount Academy forward Adam Bayless said. “We don’t have any 6-foot-8 guys. Nobody’s going to go out there and score 30 points a night. It has to be a total team effort where we play tough and hard the whole game.”
It was exactly that for the Eagles (15-3, 10-2 Eastern Plains Independent) in the biggest game of the season thus far. Four players scored in double digits and everyone who saw game action made at least one key play.
The Eagles turned over the ball 20 times and allowed the Spartans (15-5, 8-3) to score 21 points off turnovers. In the first quarter alone, the Eagles turned over the ball eight times, put the Spartans into the bonus at 1:45 of the quarter and allowed them to shoot 50 percent from the floor.
“Two years ago, we did that every night and won less than half of our games,” Eagles coach William Harrison said. “That’s the formula to lose. We hadn’t turned the ball over like that at all this year.”
R.J. Hunt alone had 16 points before halftime – and yet the Eagles went into the break down only three points.
“We didn’t play very well, and we were very fortunate to not be down by more than three,” Rocky Mount Academy forward Gibson Russell said. “It was still within grasp.”
Bayless scored 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting in the first half to keep the Eagles in it, then his squad’s defense took over in the second half.
Rocky Mount Academy began closing out shooters from its 2-3 zone, which held Kerr-Vance to 23 percent shooting in the second half, including 3-for-18 in the fourth quarter. Hunt scored only three points in the second half.
“We just knew they would miss sooner or later,” Bayless said. “It was later – the fourth quarter.”
The Eagles never solved the Spartans’ press and had issues holding the ball. Absorbing the miscues, the Eagles used composure to earn the win.
It was everything else – Russell and Bayless with key rebounds, Will Fulcher and Dillon Crawford with big 3s and Weatherly’s ball-handling – that has Rocky Mount Academy one win away from its second straight EPIC regular season title.
“We’ve been winning on grit,” Harrison said. “I coach elite-level AAU in the summer, ... those guys are unbelieveable. But we said a few weeks ago, ‘We’ve done some things with those (AAU) teams, but this is the toughest team we’ve ever had.’”
Rocky Mount Acad. 52, Kerr-Vance Academy 45
Katie Gutshall hit five 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to help Rocky Mount Academy beat Henderson Kerr-Vance Academy.
Gutshall scored 22 points to lead all scorers.
The Eagles trailed by one to start the fourth quarter, but Gutshall hit three 3s on a 10-0 Eagles run, giving them a lead they never lost.
Rocky Mount Academy 72
Henderson-Kerr-Vance Acad. 64
KVA 19 21 16 8 – 64
RMA 16 22 19 15 – 72
KVA: R.J. Hunt (19 points); Brandon Dickerson (17 points); Derrius Perry, Troy Bickel (9 points); Tyson Carrier (8 points); Jake Ruggles (2 points).
RMA: Will Fulcher (18 points); Adam Bayless (15 points); Gibson Russel (13 points); Dillon Crawford (12 points); Andrew Weatherly (5 points); McLean Warren (4 points); Ford Jolley (3 points); Jacob Hunter (2 points).
Rocky Mount Academy 52
Henderson Kerr-Vance Academy 45
KVA 12 9 10 14 – 45
RMA 9 13 8 22 – 52
KVA: Rebecca Ross (15 points); Rachel Base (9 points); Price Wester (8 points); Jessica Darnell (6 points); Hannah Abbott (4 points); Cristin Abbott (3 points).
RMA: Katie Gutshall (22 points); Ann Claire Roberson (11 points); Catherine Coates (7 points); Stephanie Loussau (6 points); Emily Ferguson (4 points); Carolyn Boddie (2 points).
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz @rmtelegram.com