It has taken a month, plenty of tribulations along the way and a minute of bedlam Friday at Nash Central High School, but Northern Nash has its first Big East Conference win.
The Knights erased a double-digit deficit, survived a late Nash Central three-pointer and earned a last-second stop to escape with a 46-45 victory.
“I told them it was going to come down to one last run or one last stop, and we got the last stop,” Northern Nash coach Rick Ruffin said. “We got out of here with a win on the road, and the kids needed this tremendously.”
Northern Nash (7-12, 1-5) lost one starter for the season due to a knee injury and another to a season-long suspension for a disciplinary issue earlier in the schedule, and it has been a rough go at times for the Knights.
Ruffin called his team “non-competitive” in a blowout loss to Southern Nash on Tuesday, but it was quite the opposite Friday.
Down 10 at half, the Knights quickly re-entered the game as Nash Central (4-16, 0-6) couldn’t make a decisive run.
D.J. Prunty, who scored all of his 12 points in the second half, hit a lay-up to take a lead with 1:51 to go.
A little more than a minute later, Isaac Dupree stole a pass in the high post and bolted down the court for a lay-up and a three-point lead.
“I saw the pass wasn’t strong enough, so I just got there quicker. I beat him there,” said Dupree, who had a game-high 17 points. “A soft pass is an easy steal.”
Nash Central’s next possession looked headed for trouble for Northern Nash when Jack Williams buried a three-pointer from the top of the key to tie the game.
In the story of the Bulldogs’ year though, the positive swing was followed by an immediate mistake. The Bulldogs didn’t run back on defense, and Dupree saw it right away.
“I saw the defense, after they hit the three, try to walk around and stuff like that, and I’m telling our big men, ‘Get me the ball,’” Dupree said. “I saw the defense not getting set, so I just wanted to take advantage of that with the drive and get the foul.”
Dupree earned the foul and made what turned out to be the game-winning free throw.
“Our whole team, when he made the three, about three of them were jogging back instead of sprinting back,” Nash Central coach Renny Taylor said. “I think they thought we had won the game or were content to tie the game.”
Nash Central had the ball once more with 1.5 seconds remaining, but Dupree prevented Williams from attempting a shot.
“The boy stepped up huge on both sides of the ball,” Ruffin said of Dupree. “We all gutted it out at the end, but he was really huge with the free throw and the defense on (Williams).”
Northern Nash 53, Nash Central 43
It was threatened for the first time in weeks, but first place in the Big East Conference still belongs to Northern Nash.
The Knights rallied past Nash Central in the final nine minutes to stay atop the league.
“We haven’t had one of these in a while, so it’s good to get out there and have to sweat and play hard and see exactly where our girls’ heart is,” Northern Nash coach Grover Battle said. “I think they dug deep and persevered at the end of the game.”
Behind Ni’Ya Styles, Nash Central (13-6, 3-3) overcame a 10-2 deficit to start the game to take eventual control in the third quarter. The Bulldogs were able to take three separate six-point leads, but Northern Nash (18-1, 6-0) was able to change the game with its pressure defense.
After the Bulldogs went ahead, 36-30, Northern Nash scored four points to end the third quarter, then Kayla Tucker made a lay-up while being fouled on the first possession of the fourth quarter to give the Knights a lead they would not lose.
In all, it was a 13-0 run at a crucial time.
“It was actually good for us to get that challenge in the conference and see we actually aren’t where we need to be,” said Knights guard Alexus Hill, who scored 22 points.
Kiana Thomas scored 12 points and added 14 rebounds for the third-ranked Knights.
Styles had 24 points.
Nash Central coach Terri Cash was encouraged her team played well against the league’s top team. She was not ready, however, to agree with Battle’s assertion that Hill is the Big East’s best player.
“Grover made the comment that it was clear who the best player in the conference was, and I’d likely to strongly disagree with that,” Cash said. “(Styles) has to fight a whole lot harder for what she gets because of her size.”
Northern Nash 53
Nash Central 43
NN 12 14 8 19 – 53
NC 15 11 10 7 – 43
NN: Alexus Hill (22 points); Kiana Thomas (12 points); Alexia Hines (7 points); Kayla Tucker, CeCe Harrison (6 points).
NC: Ni”Ya Styles (24 points); Deztanie Hill (6 points); Michaela Nelms, Rebecca Speight (4 points); Alexia Jones (2 points); Kathryn Wilkins (1 point).
Northern Nash 46
Nash Central 45
NN 10 6 16 14 – 46
NC 8 18 10 9 – 45
NN: Isaac Dupree (17 points); D.J. Prunty (12 points); Demonte Johnson (8 points); Tyler Jones (6 points); Kyree Clarke (2 points); Marcellus Major (1 point).
NC: Aaron Spivey (16 points) Jack Williams (13 points); Daniel Pittman (9 points); Houshun Gaines (4 points); Tyreeq Harrison (3 points).
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or email@example.com