Rocky Mount's Carmen Richardson protects the ball from Nash Central's Alexia Jones during Friday night's game at Nash Central High School.
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Telegram photo / Hannah Potes

Rocky Mount's Carmen Richardson protects the ball from Nash Central's Alexia Jones during Friday night's game at Nash Central High School.

Gryphons use new defense to knock off Bulldogs in Big East opener

Nick Piotrowicz

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Billed as an important early-season fight between two guard-led teams, both star players put on shows in a Big East Conference opener Friday at Nash Central High School.

For as well as Rocky Mount High’s Carmen Richardson and Nash Central’s Ni’Ya Styles played, it was something unforeseen – a new Rocky Mount defense – that made the biggest difference of all.

Carmen Richardson scored 26 points and added seven rebounds as Rocky Mount High beat Nash Central, 52-45, doing so on the back of a 2-3 zone defense that strayed from the Gryphons’ normal man-to-man.

“Basically, coach Gainey said our defense is going to make us who we are. We had to get our identity back,” Richardson said. “We’ve been working very hard as far as conditioning and defensive sets, and I think (Friday) we showed exactly what Coach Gainey wanted to see.”

Rocky Mount (7-4, 1-0 Big East) added the 2-3 as a wrinkle but ended up sticking with the scheme for the majority of the night. The set bogged down the Bulldogs (11-4, 0-1), who struggled to accomplish much of anything in half court.

Ni’Ya Styles led Nash Central with 22 points, including 13 of the Bulldogs’ 19 first-half points.

The Bulldogs earned five points from their frontcourt.

“I’m disappointed,” Nash Central coach Terri Cash said. “I just feel like we have to shoot the ball better, and more people have to want to be involved. More people have to want to shoot the ball.

“We need some inside people to step up.”

Nash Central forced 23 turnovers and scored 18 points off fast breaks.

When the Bulldogs had to slow down and break down the Gryphons’ 2-3 zone, though, there was a lot of passing around the perimeter and a lot of three-pointers, which is not the team’s strength. Nash Central shot 4-for-22 from behind the arc Friday.

“I got to give Rocky Mount credit, their 2-3 is well-extended (and) they rotate well,” Cash said. “You don’t have open shots on them inside of three, and we can’t shoot the three 22 times and win.”

After Richardson’s lay-up to take a 9-8 lead in the first quarter, Rocky Mount never lost the lead.

Nash Central struggled to make the run it needed, and the Gryphons kept their cushion.

“Truthfully, regardless (of) what we do, whether it’s man-to-man or 2-3 or whatever, our focus is on doing things correctly and communicating,” Rocky Mount coach Pam Gainey said. “We started off communicating very well, and it worked. We’ll stick with that until it’s not working anymore, then go to something else.”

Rocky Mount isn’t a tall or particularly long – like most successful 2-3 teams – but Richardson said the defense can be a strength in the future.

“One thing with this team is we’re athletic and quick on our feet,” Richardson said. “We use that to our advantage. We noticed the strengths we have, and we have to make them even better than what we already have.”

Michaela Nelms and Myia Spivey both scored nine points for Nash Central.

Keyanna Spivey scored 12 points for the Gryphons, while Ashley Hatfield grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds.

The Bulldogs were not outrebounded significantly like the first meeting between the two teams, also a Rocky Mount win, but Nash Central attempted only seven free throws – a clear sign to Cash that her team wasn’t being physical enough.

“You have to be able to take a physical pounding when you play this game, and that’s an area we lack. We’re not good as a physical contact team,” Cash said. “I definitely think that we’re good when we can get out and go. I think when you make us do what we’re uncomfortable with, we struggle.”

The Gryphons were excited to have found something successful, so much so that Richardson said the team doesn’t want a week-long break from conference games.

“I think we’d suit up again if we could,” she said.

Rocky Mount High 53
Nash Central 27

Rocky Mount High began the second quarter with an 8-0 run and led by double-digit points the rest of the game.

Nine Gryphons scored, led by Immanuel King’s 10.

Rocky Mount (7-4, 1-0 Big East Conference) held a 30-12 edge at halftime and led by as many as 28 points in the second half.

The Bulldogs (4-10, 0-1) didn’t score more than eight points in a quarter and made 10 field goals on the night.

Aaron Spivey led Nash Central with 12 points.

The Bulldogs’ next league game comes next Friday at Wilson Fike.

Rocky Mount travels to Wilson Hunt in its next Big East contest.

Rocky Mount High 52
Nash Central 45
RMH      11 14     12    15    –    52
NC         8   11     12    14    –    45
RMH: Carmen Richardson (26 points); Keyanna Spivey (12 points); Michelle Gainey (5 points); Ashley Hatfield (3 points); Takeyra Thomas, Destini Parker, Tiara Hinton (2 points).
NC: Ni’Ya Styles (22 points); Michaela Nelms, Myia Spivey (9 points); Krystal Atkinson (3 points); Alexia Jones (2 points).

Rocky Mount High 53
Nash Central 27
RMH      15 15     15      8    –    53
NC          7   5      8     7    –    27
RMH: Immanuel King (10 points); Kenaz Cooper (9 points); Isaiah Alston (7 points); Dante Battle, Jaquell Bryant, Broderick Caudle (6 points); Blake Helms (4 points); J.T. Smith (3 points); Jaquez Jones (2 points).
NC: Aaron Spivey (12 points); Daniel Pittman (9 points); Houshun Gaines (4 points); Alex Corbin (2 points.)

Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or