As Rocky Mount High’s fans chanted “It’s all about the Gryphons” at the final buzzer at Northern Nash’s gym, the Knights walked off the floor with looks of utter disbelief on their faces.
That’s what Wednesday’s game was.
The strength of Northern Nash coach Grover Battle’s teams is that they are so fundamentally disciplined. They force opponents to make the mistakes. They defend as well as any team in 3-A. They take care of the ball, and they create easy baskets.
The Knights did all of that in their 56-53 loss to Rocky Mount in the NCHSAA 3-A second round on Wednesday at Northern Nash.
What will haunt the Knights about the conclusion to their 2012-13 season is the one thing they did not do: Make free throws. The Knights finished 11-for-31 from the line and missed five free throw attempts in the final 1:51 of regulation.
Battle leaned his head against the wall when he was told how many Northern Nash had missed.
“If we hit free throws, we win the game. The game is way over,” Battle said. “But we missed. I guess we just didn’t keep our composure at the free throw line. If we hit even half of those, we win the game.”
The 20 misses from the free-throw line overshadowed a mostly excellent game from the Knights, but worse, it kept them out of the third round and sent their rival instead.
Northern Nash forced 23 turnovers and turned them into 16 points.
The Knights grabbed 14 offensive rebounds.
The Knights played such good defense in the final three quarters that Rocky Mount attempted only eight field goals in the second quarter and nine in both the third and fourth quarters.
And they earned all those trips to the free-throw line but wasted 20 potential points with misses.
“We didn’t win, unfortunately, so I guess you can’t say we’re the better team, but you look at what we caused and the problem we created, but we just didn’t finish by hitting the free throws we needed to hit,” Battle said. “It’s kind of unbelievable that we missed so many, because normally, we hit a lot.”
Some will feel it is a cruel ending for a Northern Nash team that won 22 games and played – when the clock was running, anyway – a game that would have been good enough to advance had it made only four more free throws.
The only other fault for the Knights quickly was handled.
The Gryphons were ready from the tipoff, going on a 14-2 run, which included the first 10 points.
But Northern Nash quickly rallied back, taking a brief lead and never letting Rocky Mount run away with the contest.
After that, as Battle said, “We did everything we wanted.”
The Knights controlled the pace in the final three quarters. Rocky Mount coach Pam Gainey was forced to burn through her timeouts as the Gryphons continued to make mistakes, particularly failing to take care of the ball.
J’Kyra Brown scored a game-high 32 points for Rocky Mount, but Northern Nash had been prepared to absorb another spectacular outing from Brown. Carmen Richardson had 14 points, but the rest of the Gryphons were held to a combined 10.
Though it did not end with a trophy, Battle said Northern Nash’s season still was a successful one. No, the Knights didn’t make free throws Wednesday, but their coach was grateful for what they did for the program.
“I thought our girls played really hard,” Battle said. “I appreciate what they’ve done the last four years. They’ve brought tradition back to Northern Nash.”
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9959 or npiotrowicz@ rmtelegram.com