Basketball didn’t matter anymore.
Midway through the second quarter of the Eastern Plains Independent Conference Tournament championship, putting an inflated ball into a metal hoop didn’t hold much weight for Rocky Mount Academy.
On a simple fast break, Rocky Mount Academy forward Adam Bayless – making the exact type of play that has made his coaches love him and his opponents respect him – beat Raleigh Grace Christian’s Michael Taylor to the spot and drew a charge.
In the act, though, Taylor’s hip came crashing down onto Bayless, pinning his head between Taylor’s body and the floor. Bayless went unconscious for a few seconds, then awoke and went into a seizure.
With blood coming out of Bayless’ eyes and an icy silence in the gym, his Rocky Mount Academy teammates looked on, helpless.
The game was delayed for more than half an hour as emergency medical personnel helped Bayless out of the gym on a stretcher.
When the game resumed, Grace Christian went on a 10-0 run and took an 11-point lead to halftime as a lifeless Eagles squad plodded through the contest.
At that point, Rocky Mount Academy coach William Harrison would have settled for good news – which he received after the game, as doctors said Bayless will be OK – but there’s one thing that makes good news even better: A trophy to go with it.
The Eagles rallied in the second half to force overtime, then controlled the extra period, winning the EPIC regular season and tournament title for the second straight time with a 54-51 victory.
“I said to myself after that second quarter, ‘We have checked out of this game,’” Harrison said. “Our emotions were too high. But on the flip side, they came out after halftime and got after it. They did everything we asked.”
Harrison and his team had tears in their eyes as they looked at Bayless prone on the ground.
And no one would have blamed them for losing without their best player, but Harrison let the Eagles (19-4) know he wasn’t interested in an excuse, no matter how serious.
“Our team can be – I don’t want to say delicate – but they can let their emotions get the best of them,” Harrison said. “I really challenged them at halftime. It wasn’t a ‘win-one-for-Adam’ type speech, but I told them they at least owe it to him to go out there and play hard.
“I walked out after saying that, and I was stunned to see them follow me back to the court after about one minute.”
The Eagles had fallen twice to Grace Christian this season but played inspired after the half.
Harrison switched up the team’s press, and it held Grace Christian to 14 points in the second half, and three in the fourth quarter.
At a size disadvantage to begin with and missing their biggest player, Rocky Mount Academy didn’t have an answer for Grace Christian’s 6-foot-8 center, though Rocky Mount Academy was able to make due with its patchwork lineup.
Will Fulcher scored seven of the Eagles’ nine points in the overtime on his way to 18 total points and being named the tournament Most Valuable Player.
Steven Sin scored the game-winning basket for Rocky Mount Academy.
Bayless’ CT scan came back negative, though the senior does have a concussion.
“He’ll be fine, but we’re not sure how long he’ll be out,” Harrison said.
The Eagles’ prospects for the postseason are unclear. Harrison said he has heard Rocky Mount Academy’s chances are “very, very, very slim” to make the 12-team playoffs team field in the NCISSA.
Because Grace Christian, which tied with Rocky Mount Academy in the regular season but had a tiebreaker advantage, won the regular season title, it will go to the playoffs as the EPIC representative.
Rocky Mount Academy likely will be the last team on the outside of the 12-team bracket, which will be announced this afternoon.
“As a coach, nothing comes close to this for me,” Harrison said. “I had complete strangers come up to me and tell me how tough my team is. We had guys crying on the bench afterward.
“This might have been their last game. It’s just unbelievable.”
Rocky Mount Academy 54
Raleigh Grace Christian 51
RMA 14 6 11 14 9 – 54
RGC 15 16 11 3 6 – 51
RMA: Will Fulcher (18 points); Jacob Hunter (11 points); Dillon Crawford (9 points); Adam Bayless (6 points); Gibson Russel 5 (points); Steven Sin (4 points); Ford Jolley (1 point).
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz@ rmtelegram.com.