After a 30-point defeat at the hands of Wilson Hunt earlier this season, anything would have been better for Rocky Mount High in the rematch Tuesday night.
The two-point loss – 62-60 – was, in fact, much worse.
Ahead by 10 with a little more than three minutes to play, Rocky Mount collapsed.
Fueled by an 0-for-8 effort from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter and three turnovers in the final minute, Rocky Mount all but assured its chance to win a third consecutive Big East Conference title walked out the doors of Rocky Mount High School with Wilson Hunt, which swept the regular-season series with the Gryphons.
“It was all in our hands, and we just gave it away,” Rocky Mount High coach Mike Gainey said. “... It was our game.”
Of the Gryphons’ eight missed free throws in the final quarter, none rang louder than the second-to-last attempt.
After Quan Kent hit a lay-up with six seconds to play, Isaiah Alston missed the front end of two free throws after being fouled attempting the game-winning shot with one seconds to play.
He missed the second shot intentionally, and after the ball was tipped around, the buzzer sounded.
“I have faith in my teammates,” Gryphons forward Dante Battle said. “I have faith in my teammates from the free-throw line. Even though they missed it, I’m still going to have faith in my teammates.”
After watching a 10-point lead fade away behind the hot shooting of Kent, who hit 23 of his game high 26 points in the second half and 15 in the fourth quarter, the Gryphons (10-7, 4-2 Big East) had a chance late.
With the game tied, 100 seconds to play and possession, Rocky Mount missed two shots and turned over the ball three times.
The lone Gryphons’ basket during the stretch came with 30 seconds to play after Brod Caudle forced a turnover by Wilson Hunt (13-3, 5-0).
“We haven’t been going to the free-throw line,” Gainey said. “Now, they’ve picked it up, and they’re attacking, which is awesome. But now that we are getting to charity stripe, we have to make it happen.
“We didn’t make it happen (Tuesday).”
Wilson Hunt 59
Rocky Mount High 53
Down by as many as 11 points in the fourth quarter, the Gryphons pulled within two points in the final minutes, but a lack of focus and three missed shots in the final 12 seconds cost Rocky Mount a victory.
“This team has got to work at focusing on what we’re doing,” Rocky Mount coach Pam Gainey said. “This is not rec league. I’m trying to get them to understand that.”
Carmen Richardson, who scored a game-high 24 points, went 7-for-8 from the free-throw line and hit a lay-up as the Gryphons (10-6, 4-2) closed the gap, but she didn’t attempt a shot in the waning seconds – something Gainey pointed to as an issue late in the game.
“I don’t know if we’re losing confidence or we’re kind of like a deer caught in the headlights, I’m not exactly sure,” she said. “We are looking hesitant.”