PLYMOUTH – While the rest of his team filed into the locker room Friday night, Rocky Mount Prep senior forward Donte Samuels searched the stands with tears flowing out of his eyes.
He was looking for someone to hug.
After a short time, he found his parents. He saved the last hug for his mother, who told him that he always is a winner in her eyes. Following the third round of the NCHSAA 1-A boys’ basketball state playoffs, Samuels and the rest of the Jaguars are winners in everybody else’s eyes, too.
Especially those inside a packed Plymouth High School, who not only watched Rocky Mount Prep top No. 1-seeded and previously undefeated Plymouth, 60-57, but also saw the Jaguars enact sweet revenge and earn redemption.
Last year, Samuels wept after a regional championship loss to Plymouth. These tears were different.
“These were tears of joy,” Samuels said.
For the first three-and-a- half quarters, No. 5 Rocky Mount Prep (22-3) never took control. Instead, the Jaguars seemed to just hang to Plymouth as leads changed, shrank and extended. Late in the fourth quarter – a time usually reserved for Rocky Mount Prep’s starters to rest on the bench – the Jaguars turned it on in crunch time.
In the process, Rocky Mount Prep showed its maturity.
The Jaguars took a seven-point lead with 2:52 to play before Plymouth (25-1) proved why it was undefeated coming into Friday night.
The Vikings went on a quick 8-2 run to pull within one point, but that was as close as they came.
“We really didn’t want our high school careers to end on a game we had control of,” Samuels said. “We wanted to go out there and fight in every game like it’s our last. It very well could be.”
After an offensive goaltending call on Deshawn Freeman during Plymouth’s final stretch – a play that discreetly showed the Jaguars’ maturity when James Bonds tried a layup instead of an alley-oop – Freeman slammed home a dunk with 61 seconds to go.
Plymouth missed seven shots in the final minute, including two 3-pointers on the final possession.
Rocky Mount Prep, Freeman in particular, pulled down key rebounds late and overcame missed free throws down the stretch.
“Everybody did their thing. Everybody knew what had to be done,” Bonds said. “The crowd wasn’t on our side, but we knew we had to dig deep and fight for everything to get the win.”
When Plymouth’s last attempt fell short, the Jaguars’ support poured out of a crowd that was sold out and packed into the bleachers more than an hour before tipoff.
The excited bunch celebrated Rocky Mount Prep’s latest big victory.
The Jaguars, who went 12-for-24 from the free-throw line Friday, defeated Wilson Greenfield in Wilson earlier this season and went to a tournament in Virginia and beat a Brunswick (Va.) team on its home court, where it hadn’t lost in four years.
Add a redeeming victory against a previously-undefeated, top-ranked opponent to that list.
Rocky Mount Prep is not treating the victory as the end of its season.
“It just shows you the heart of these guys,” Rocky Mount Prep coach Don Reams said. “They want it. They have unfinished business. … As sweet as this victory is, they cannot get swell-headed thinking it’s done. We still have work ahead of us, starting next week.”
Rocky Mount Prep 60
RMP 10 18 14 18 – 60
P 12 16 17 12 – 57
RMP: Deshawn Freeman (16 points); James Bonds (14 points); Gary Smith (14 points); Donte Samuels (9 points); Jacob Barrett (7 points).
P: Adrian Moore (15 points); Carl McCray (14 points); Khalil Sheppard (7 points); Kendrick Pitt (7 points); Davonte Spruill (6 points); Shawn Holloway (5 points); Shamontez Ferebee (3 points).
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or email@example.com