WILSON – After shooting poorly the first time Rocky Mount High played top seed Wilson Hunt and needing a buzzer-beater the second time, Gryphons’ forward M.J. Gainey was in a hurry to end the boys’ Big East Conference Tournament Championship game.
Even though his mother, Pam, was worried about his knee, which he tweaked earlier Friday, Gainey told his dad, Rocky Mount High coach Mike Gainey, that he was ready.
“We let him play, let him have fun, and he shot the lights out,” Mike Gainey said.
M.J. Gainey scored all 21 of his game-high total in the first half, knocking down a trio of 3-pointers in the first 16 minutes as Rocky Mount ran away from Wilson Hunt early during a surprisingly simple 68-53 victory at Wilson Hunt High School.
“I going to shoot it. I’m going to make it,” said M.J. Gainey, who was named tournament MVP. “I had to let everyone know, it’s not a joke anymore.”
With the victory, Rocky Mount High (22-2) secured the top seed in the NCHSAA 3-A state playoffs from the Big East.
“We wanted it so bad because we know the previous times, we didn’t get it,” said M.J. Gainey, who tore his ACL last season. “We had the feeling that we really deserved it.”
With the score tied after one quarter, M.J. Gainey scored seven-straight points before his teammates scored 11 unanswered on four layups and a 3-pointer from Broderick Caudle.
“We had to establish our inside,” Mike Gainey said. “We knew that’s what we had to do (Friday). ... Our front court played pretty darn good.”
Ahead by 12 at that point, the second-seeded Gryphons took a 13-point lead into the halftime break and continued to extend it in the second half, even though M.J. Gainey only hit the rim with one shot – a floater that clanged out.
He scored enough in the first half, and because of his knee and the Gryphons’ desire to slow down the game, he stopped shooting.
But in the first half, he couldn’t miss.
“It was definitely my night,” M.J. Gainey said.
Dante Battle added 16 points, and Michael Hines scored 15 for the Gryphons. Both players were named to the All-Tournament team along with Gainey.
Nash Central’s Nathaniel Pittman and Jaquan Wilkins were also named to the team.
Deon Lavender and Desmon Jackson made up Southern Nash’s contingent, and Travon Davis and Justin Jefferson earned the nod from Wilson Hunt (20-4).
When the Big East Conference regular-season schedule began, Mike Gainey said that his team’s only concern was the Gryphons’ five conference opponents.
He won’t have to worry about them anymore – unless they meet in the state playoffs.
Rocky Mount took care of its responsibility.
“Everybody wants to be No. 1,” Mike Gainey said. “We wanted to be in position where we can compete and get back to the playoffs. Everybody wants the No. 1 spot. I’m not going to tell you I don’t, but we’re blessed to get to the playoffs. That’s just what we wanted.”
No. 2 Rocky Mount High 68
No. 1 Wilson Hunt 53
RMH 15 23 12 18 – 68
WH 15 10 11 17 – 53
RMH: M.J. Gainey (21 points); Dante Battle (16 points); Michael Hines (15 points); Mason Hines (7 points); Broderick Caudle (7 points); Jaquell Bryant (1 point); Immanuel King (1 point).
WH: Daniel Westbrook (19 points); Justin Jefferson (11 points); Keenon Tabron (11 points); Travon Davis (6 points); Dwanya Sutton (3 points); Dexter Wright (3 points).
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or email@example.com