The final play turned out exactly the way Rocky Mount High coach Mike Gainey would have wanted.
His team was ahead by one point in the fading seconds of overtime with Hertford County’s point guard Ryan Weaver being swarmed by a defender, who had both hands raised in Weaver’s face.
The final result – Weaver being lifted in the air by his teammates who rushed the court Tuesday – wasn’t exactly what Gainey wanted, but it was a conclusion he didn’t mind.
After falling behind by five points late, the Gryphons traded leads with the Bears in overtime before Weaver’s desperation buzzer beater gave Rocky Mount its first loss of the season, 77-75, and its first nonconference home loss in almost three years.
“I love it,” Gainey said of an early-season loss. “It’s a good thing. I don’t want to go anywhere undefeated because then you start getting tighter, and it puts a little too much pressure on these kids.”
The last time Rocky Mount (3-1) lost at home during its non conference schedule was a 62-56 defeat at the hands of Hertford County on Jan. 5, 2011.
Neither of the Gryphons’ state championship teams in the past five years went unbeaten, so Gainey knows it iss not the end of the team’s season. His team knows it will help them refocus.
“It wakes us up big time,” said forward Dante Battle, who was the MVP of the state championship in 2012. “If we were going undefeated, then we’d get too tight. You can lose any game. This is a good wake-up call.”
The Gryphons led for most of the game before an 11-0 run by Hertford County (2-1) gave the Bears a five-point lead in the fourth quarter. Rocky Mount didn’t erase the deficit until transfer Isaiah Alston knocked down a 3-pointer from the wing with 39 seconds to play.
Once overtime began, Rocky Mount’s struggles from the first four quarters persisted.
The Gryphons missed three free throws in the final minute, and on two separate occasions in the final 24 seconds, they lost a defensive rebound out of bounds, giving Hertford County another chance.
“Everybody was so anxious,” Gainey said. “Instead of slowing down and securing the ball, everybody just wanted to run, and we lost the handle.”
The Gryphons, who were playing without forward Immanuel King, didn’t regain possession after Alston knocked down the go-ahead free throw with 45 seconds to play.
Instead, Hertford County attempted three shots and nearly missed out on a five-second violation.
“If we would have made our free throws, we wouldn’t have had this problem,” said Battle, who scored 24 points but went 4-for-9 from the free-throw line.
Weaver barely managed to release the ball before the buzzer sounded, but his shot from just behind the 3-point arc swished through the net, sending the Bears rushing onto the court and the Gryphons walking away in disbelief.
Gainey laughed as he shook hands with the Hertford County coach, knowing that all was not lost.
If Gryphons coach Pam Gainey wanted her team to start better, she couldn’t have asked for much more.
Behind a trio of big runs, the Gryphons cruised, utilizing the brand of team basketball that will help them in their first season without former All-State guard J’Kyra Brown along the way.
“I thought we played better together,” Gainey said. “We shared the ball. We gave up some shots that normally we wouldn’t give up.”
The Gryphons ran off eight, nine and 27 unanswered points to take a 38-point lead through the first 12 minutes.
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or email@example.com