Donte McNeil spent Northern Nash’s last game on the bench, vomiting into a trash can because of a stomach virus.
Tuesday against Southern Nash, McNeil was throwing up again, only this time his teammates mobbed him instead of treating him like a leper.
McNeil grabbed a rebound in the waning seconds of a tie game and threw up a blind turnaround jumper at the buzzer, which banked off the backboard, hit the rim and fell in for a 44-42 Knights victory at Northern Nash High School.
“It wasn’t really a certain play we were supposed to run, it was just a clear-it-out and take whatever good shot we can get,” McNeil said. “I just hit the boards hard and happened to be there.”
The final play – and the entire second half – was hardly aesthetically pleasing for the Knights (7-9, 3-3 Big East Conference). Northern Nash coach Rick Ruffin said he would let his team bring the ball up the court and decide whether to call timeout based on how the play unfolded.
When Isacc Dupree sprinted up the right baseline, harassed by Desmon Jackson the whole way, Ruffin tried to stop play, but the referees didn’t see him. Dupree handed off the ball to Isaiah Alston, who had come off a screen, but Alston’s 3 was well wide. That’s when McNeil’s ever-reliable ability to crash the glass gave the Knights a final chance.
“When I saw him release it, I just hit the boards like I was supposed to do,” McNeil said. “I actually just picked the ball up and turned around. I had to get the best shot I could.”
Southern Nash (3-15, 2-5) had two fouls to give, and coach Robbie Kennedy had ordered his squad to seek a steal, then foul if they didn’t earn one. Instead, the Firebirds did neither, allowing a scramble play that led to a loss that likely will prove costly, as the Knights have a 1 1⁄2-game lead for the final Big East playoffs spot plus the tiebreaker against the Firebirds.
“We don’t foul, (Alston) takes a terrible shot, and we don’t box out and they get a putback,” Kennedy said. “... We just didn’t do what we were coached to do.”
After a Southern Nash miss, Dupree, who beat Southern Nash with a late 3 in the Nash County Christmas Tournament, hit a 3 to give the Knights a two-point lead.
Jackson was in line to be the hero on the following possession, hitting a left-handed finger roll off a spin move in the lane to tie the game with 14 seconds to play.
The Knights squandered a 12-point lead in the second half and scored only 18 points, but they’ll take the win.
“We’re glad to get the win, but we just aren’t pleased with the way we played (Tuesday),” Ruffin said. “We got out of here with a win. We’ll take it and move on.”
Northern Nash 71, Southern Nash 19
Northern Nash began the game on a 30-0 run and led by at least 27 points for the remainder of the game.
Quinesha Lynch (16 points) and Alexus Hill (15 points) helped lead the Knights, who had every girl but one score in the contest.
Top-ranked Northern Nash (16-0, 6-0 Big East Conference) made 12 field goals in the first quarter, then held Southern Nash to seven field goals total and less than 16 percent shooting. Destiny Burgess led the Ladybirds (4-14, 0-7) with nine points.
Northern Nash 44
Southern Nash 42
SN 11 5 19 7 – 42
NN 14 12 9 9 – 44
SN: Aaron Ware (13 points); Chi-Ali Bunn (8 points); Richard Hall (6 points); Rashid Campbell (4 points); Marques Taylor (3 points); Marques Wright, Desmon Jackson, Deon Lavender, Tahj Deans (2 points).
NN: Isaiah Alston (19 points); Isacc Dupree (11 points); Donte McNeil (6 points); D.J. Prunty (4 points); Jeremy Freeman (3 points); Marcellus Major (1 point).
Northern Nash 71
Southern Nash 19
SN 0 13 3 3 – 19
NN 26 14 18 13 – 71
SN: Destiny Burgess (9 points); Danyelle Noland (5 points); Shaquana Langston (3 points); Tyreka Nicholson (2 points).
NN: Quinesha Lynch (16 points); Alexus Hill (15 points); Jordan Oldham (8 points); Camille Branch, Deja Lewis, Khadijrah Richardson (6 points); CeCe Harrison, Keyante Cherry (4 points); Alexia Hines (3 points); Suzie Sykes (2 points); Kayla Tucker (1 point).
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz@ rmtelegram.com