Rocky Mount High has another shot at Wilson Hunt.
Two players had double-doubles, No. 2 seed Rocky Mount established a big lead in the third quarter and eventually beat third-seeded Southern Nash, 66-52, in the Big East Conference Tournament semifinals on Thursday at Rocky Mount High School.
“We haven’t played all week. We’ve been watching everybody else play, out here working and carrying on,” Rocky Mount coach Mike Gainey said. “I told the guys after the second quarter we needed to settle down.”
Even with a distinct rebounding advantage, Rocky Mount (15-7) was forced into a game it did not want to play in the first half.
The low-scoring, halfcourt-oriented pace favored Southern Nash (10-14), which kept the Gryphons from running on fast breaks. Further, the Firebirds were able to keep Rocky Mount post players Immanuel King and Dante Battle fairly quiet with a combined eight points before halftime.
The score was tied at 19 after two quarters.
Rocky Mount took control in the third quarter. The Gryphons scored the first five points of the quarter, forcing the Firebirds to take a timeout, then went on an 11-0 run shortly thereafter to create a 14-point lead.
Southern Nash turned over the ball 19 times.
“(The) third quarter, we just had some silly turnovers,” Southern Nash coach Robbie Kennedy said. “We talked about not shooting quick, and we did that a few times and gave them run-outs.”
King, in particular, was able to draw fouls, shooting nearly as many free throws (15) as the Firebirds did as a team (17).
“They had a trap they were doing, and we kind of broke that,” King said. “They got a little tired. We wore them down.”
Rocky Mount was able to keep a comfortable lead thanks to regular trips to the free-throw line – much to the dismay of the Firebirds, who were upset about the free-throw discrepancy.
Rocky Mount shot 37 free throws by the end of the night.
“It’s hard to fight that. They shoot 20 more free throws than you, it’s hard,” Kennedy said.
The Gryphons made it a point to be more physical in the second half, Gainey said.
“The first half I didn’t think we could hit a free throw,” Gainey said. “The second half they got themselves together, and that’s what we want them to do. We’re big, man, so we want to get inside and give the ball to Dante and Immanuel.”
King finished with 19 points and 17 rebounds, while Battle scored 11 points and had 13 rebounds.
Rocky Mount guard Isaiah Alston just missed a double-double of his own, scoring 19 points and grabbing nine rebounds.
Bryan Vines came off the bench to lead the Firebirds with 15 points.
Rocky Mount will play Wilson Hunt at 7:30 tonight for the conference tournament championship.
The Warriors won the first meeting in a blowout in Wilson. In the second matchup, Rocky Mount had a lead in the fourth-quarter but lost it, losing any chance at the No. 1 seed with it.
The Gryphons are confident they can beat Hunt given another chance. King said Rocky Mount believes it can score against the Warriors, but it must win the game on the other end.
“It was the defense we have to keep control over, not just the offense,” King said. “We had them on the offensive end. We can score anytime we want to, but other than that, it’s the defense we have to control.”
Rocky Mount High 66
Southern Nash 52
SN 10 9 15 18 – 52
RMH 12 7 30 17 – 66
SN: Bryan Vines (15 points); Emmanuel Merriweather, Tahj Deans (9 points); Leon Oates, Aaron Newkirk (6 points); Marquise Wright (4 points); Buddy Settles (2 points); Deon Lavender (1 point).
RMH: Immanuel King, Isaiah Alston (19 points); Dante Battle (11 points); Brod Caudle (9 points); Thomas Cooper, Jaquell Bryant (3 points); Raheem Taylor (2 points).
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or email@example.com