WILSON – Just a week ago, Rocky Mount High and Nash Central completed the regular season as part of a three-way tie for second place in the Big East Conference.
Seven days later, there seems to be separation heavily in the third seed Gryphons’ favor.
Rocky Mount played confidently, efficiently and showed signs of an improving squad in what was an easy 56-33 victory against No. 2 Nash Central on Thursday night in the semifinals of the Big East Conference Tournament at Wilson Hunt High School.
It did not look like a matchup of squads who split a pair of conference regular season games.
“It’s encouraging,” Rocky Mount coach Pam Gainey said. “We’ve had issues with our confidence. There are things they are seeing they can and want to do, but most importantly, they have to do them at the right time and for the right reasons.”
J’Kyra Brown led the way with 22 points, and Carmen Richardson added 15 for the Gryphons, who will play top-seeded Northern Nash at 6 tonight in the championship game.
But it was not simply putting the ball in the ball in the basket that told the story Thursday night.
Rocky Mount (15-9) had contributions from virtually everyone who stepped on the floor.
In one sequence during the third quarter, Takeyra Thomas dove for a loose ball near midcourt before shuffling it to Brown for an easy layup and a 40-26 lead that only expanded the remainder of the way.
“That’s basketball right there,” Gainey said. “We want to set the tone and send a message. We don’t want to wait on the other end for a layup.”
Nash Central’s night started out promising but quickly faded in the second quarter.
Bulldogs center Jalynn Westry scored nine of her team-high 12 points in the first quarter, and Nash Central opened a 24-18 advantage early in the second quarter.
Rocky Mount closed the quarter on a 14-3 run during a stretch when Nash Central either turned over the ball, missed layups or did not attempt a shot at all.
“Basketball is a game of spurts, and when they made their run, we didn’t respond well,” Nash Central coach Terri Cash said. “Our team does not handle adversity very well.”
Nash Central (12-8) will have a week off before trudging into the NCHSAA 3-A state playoffs. The Bulldogs scored nine points in the second half.
“Their focus has not been anything that I want to see,” Cash said. “We have to do better. We have to be able to put the ball in the basket and play consistent. We haven’t been able to do those things.”
Meanwhile, the Gryphons seem to have found an extra bounce in their step, which they will need tonight in order to defeat Northern Nash for the first time in four attempts this season.
“When J’Kyra got injured, they were in a position of step-up-or-get-killed,” Gainey said. “I think maybe during that stretch they did some things we thought they could do that they were not confident in.”
No. 3 Rocky Mount High 56
No. 2 Nash Central 33
RMH 14 16 14 12 – 56
NC 17 7 4 5 – 33
RMH: J’Kyra Brown (22 points); Carmen Richardson (15 points); Kelsey Daniels (9 points); Takeyra Thomas (4 points); Sakeya Battle (4 points); Kyler Daniels (2 points).
NC: Jalynn Westry (12 points); Brittani Strickland (7 points); Marquesha Washington (6 points); Ni’Ya Styles (3 points); Deztanie Hill (2 points); Krystal Atkinson (2 points).
Jessie H. Nunery can be reached at 407-9959 or email@example.com