FAYETTEVILLE – In some ways, it’s nearly impossible to prepare for a 6-foot-9 McDonald’s All-American.
Especially in high school basketball.
Still, that was Rocky Mount High’s task leading up to Saturday night’s NCHSAA 3-A Eastern Regional championship against Oxford Webb and UNC signee Isaiah Hicks.
The Gryphons prepared for Hicks to block every shot. That’s what Rocky Mount guard Mason Hines expected when he drove the lane with 15 seconds to play.
That’s exactly what happened.
There was contact as Hines fell to the floor, and there was even some thought that it might have been goaltending. But like the inevitability of Hicks’ long arms, Rocky Mount couldn’t do anything to change the result – a 68-64 season-ending loss.
“We knew that he was going to block our shots,” Hines said. “… We knew he was going to block shots the whole game.”
Hines was the last player to walk off the court and through a dark tunnel at the end of the Crown Coliseum. For only the second time in four years, Rocky Mount’s season ended with a loss.
“The kids are upset,” Rocky Mount High coach Mike Gainey said. “You hate to lose, but that’s part of the game. Someone has to win. Someone has to lose. Unfortunately, the ball didn’t fall our way the last couple minutes.”
Top-seeded Rocky Mount pulled within two points with five minutes to play on a deep jumper by M.J. Gainey, despite leading by as many as nine points in the second half.
Hicks just changed the game from there.
“I didn’t want to lose,” Hicks said. “We didn’t work this hard to lose. Something just kicked in.”
In the final five minutes, Hicks, who finished the game 10-for-10 from the free-throw line, scored six of eight points for Oxford Webb (26-5).
He pulled down three offensive rebounds and had one season-ending block.
Rocky Mount turned over the ball just once but missed three shots and two free throws in the final 4:30.
Fourth-seeded Oxford Webb iced the game with two free throws in the final seconds after Hicks’ block on Hines.
“It hurts, but we’re going to come back from it sooner or later,” said M.J. Gainey, who scored 19 points.
Mike Gainey expected Hicks to take over the game at some point.
“He’s a McDonald’s All-American for a reason,” Mike Gainey said.
Rocky Mount just wanted to limit the rest of the Warriors’ production.
For nearly the first three quarters, Hicks, who finished with 22 points, was almost a no-show. He didn’t hit a field goal until 1:37 remained in the third quarter.
Gryphons forward Dante Battle, who seemed to relish the challenge of facing an All-American, actually outplayed Hicks.
“It felt regular to me,” Battle said. “He’s just another person to me, just another guy to guard. Knowing he’s an All-American just made me want to play harder. It made me want to go at him like he’s going to go at me so maybe one day, I can be an All-American.”
Battle finished with 27 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks.
While Battle, who was named to the All-Regional Tournament team along with M.J. Gainey, scored all six of Rocky Mount’s points in the final five minutes, Hicks was just too much.
In the words of Mike Gainey, Hicks finally “got his.”
While Oxford Webb, which will move on to the 3-A state championship game next Saturday, will lose its All-American next season, Rocky Mount will bring back its entire frontcourt – a trio that measures a combined 19-feet, 6-inches.
That itself immediately had Mike Gainey believing that the Gryphons will return to the regional tournament for a fifth straight season next year.
“We’ll be here again,” Mike Gainey said. “We’re coming back.”
If recent history is an indicator, Gainey just might be correct.
Oxford Webb 68
Rocky Mount High 64
OW 11 20 19 18 – 68
RMH 21 14 19 10 – 64
OW: Isaiah Hicks (22 points); Devonte Williams (18 points); Mitron Terry (9 points); Tyrek Beverly (8 points); Stefan Cates (8 points); Tyler Thomas (2 points); Bryan Smith (1 point).
RMH: Dante Battle (27 points); M.J. Gainey (19 points); Broderick Caudle (6 points); Immanuel King (4 points); Michael Hines (4 points); Mason Hines (2 points); Ahmad Harrell (2 points).
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or email@example.com