WILSON – Southern Nash doesn’t know when – or if – points will come.
It doesn’t know from whom – or if – those points will come.
And it doesn’t know if it will – or if it can – force its opponent to play at the crawling tempo it must have to win.
But if the Firebirds knew anything about their regular season, it was that they could beat Northern Nash if given another opportunity.
Southern Nash earned the chance and capitalized, winning in its fourth try against the Knights with 50-38 victory in the Big East Conference Tournament quarterfinals Monday at Wilson Hunt High School.
“They done beat us three times, and we were, like, there’s no way they’re going to beat us four times,” Southern Nash senior point guard Desmon Jackson said. “We just had to find some way to make that play. (Northern Nash) had made the plays the first three times, so we had to make that play this time.”
This time, that play was a crucial basket near the end of the third quarter.
With the Firebirds (4-18) trailing, 27-21, and in jeopardy of letting the game slip away, Aaron Newkirk hit a putback off a miss and sprung a run.
On the last play of the third quarter, Newkirk hit a 3-pointer. Chi-Ali Bunn started the fourth with a 3 of his own, then Jackson buried a shot from behind the arc, too. After scoring 21 points in the first 27 minutes, the Firebirds had a 13-0 run in a flash.
“It’s amazing how much better you play when the ball goes in the basket,” Southern Nash coach Robbie Kennedy said. “The first half, neither one of us could have put the ball in the ocean.”
In the first contest against Northern Nash (8-13), Southern Nash had a one-point lead but allowed a game-winning 3-pointer with 14 seconds remaining.
In the second, they couldn’t make a run to take a winnable game. In the third, they badly botched the final defensive possession and allowed a game-winning jump shot at the buzzer.
In the fourth, they thoroughly controlled the fourth quarter.
Jackson scored all of his team-high 11 points in the fourth quarter, including an 8-for-8 showing at the free-throw line. The Firebirds, who normally hover around 50 percent from the line, made 14 of their 17 attempts in the fourth quarter to assure there would be no disappointment this time.
The Knights struggled to find the basket as the Firebirds, particularly Jackson, put the margin out of reach.
“I was telling them at halftime – it’s been like this all year – we gotta get over the hump,” Jackson said. “When I saw (Newkirk) hit that 3, I knew I had to will us in.”
Isaiah Alston led the Knights with 12 points, but Northern Nash couldn’t respond after the Firebirds’ initial run.
“It was a poor performance. We couldn’t get anything going,” Northern Nash coach Rick Ruffin said. “We just didn’t seem to be the team we’ve been for the last couple weeks.”
D.J. Prunty was injured in the second half for Northern Nash.
Prunty hit his head on the floor and did not return after showing concussion symptoms.
No. 5 Southern Nash 50
No. 4 Northern Nash 38
SN 8 9 9 24 – 50
NN 4 12 11 11 – 38
SN: Desmon Jackson (11 points); Deon Lavender (9 points); Aaron Newkirk (8 points); Chi-Ali Bunn (7 points); Marques Wright (6 points); Richard Hall (5 points); Tahj Deans (2 points); Aaron Ware, Queston Powell (1 point).
NN: Isaiah Alston (12 points); Isacc Dupree (5 points); Jeremy Freeman, Donte McNeil, Kyree Clark (4 points); Adam Renner, Marcellus Major (3 points); D.J. Prunty (2 points); Travis Pittman (1 point).
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz@ rmtelegram.com