FAYETTEVILLE – As he ran back down court during the third quarter Wednesday, Gary Smith heard his name being called from the bench.
Even though he had blown by his defender at the top of the key, drove the lane and dished a pass off to Deshawn Freeman for an easy lay-in, Rocky Mount Prep coach Don Reams’ voice had a hint of anger to it.
Smith turned, and suddenly Reams voice changed.
“Good job,” Reams said in a loud but calming voice.
No. 5 Rocky Mount Prep did a good enough job in the NCHSAA 1-A Eastern Regional semifinal against Camden that Smith took his usual fourth-quarter position: On the bench with the rest of the starters.
The Jaguars dominated the first three quarters and watched the second team extend its lead, eventually to the 72-41 final score inside Crown Arena.
“We don’t count out the little things, because the little things are what matter the most,” said Smith, who finished with seven points. “If we focus on the little things more, it’ll turn out good.”
Rocky Mount Prep (23-3) wasn’t perfect in the first half, allowing nine offensive rebounds and turning over the ball 11 times.
The Jaguars’ shooting just made them look much better.
Five days after struggling from the field against Plymouth in the third round of the playoffs, Rocky Mount Prep knocked down 66.7 percent of its shots in the first half and 62 percent for the game.
Only one core rotation player shot worse than 50 percent.
“(Making shots) gives us energy on defense,” said Jacob Barrett, who scored a team-high 16 points. “Our adrenaline is pumping when we have a good game. It gives us confidence.”
Camden (21-8) came into Wednesday night overmatched physically, but Reams worried about the Bruins’ ability to shoot 3-pointers.
That was until they missed seven of their eight attempts in the first half on the way to a 23.8 first-half field goal percentage.
“We had the height,” said Reams, pointing to Rocky Mount Prep’s minus-2 rebounding margin in the first half. “We should have taken advantage of it a lot more than we did in the first half. But we didn’t.”
Thanks to stout defense, the Jaguars didn’t have to rely on it.
Rocky Mount Prep held Camden without a field goal for the first 7:14.
The Bruins’ only basket of the first quarter came on a loose ball after Jaguars’ guard Aaron Oates made a steal and threw the ball back into the open court.
“We need to take that same type of defensive pressure when we play Saturday,” Reams said.
On Saturday in the 1-A Eastern Regional championship, the same spot where Rocky Mount Prep’s season ended last year to Plymouth.
The Jaguars will face top-seeded East Carteret (25-5), which defeated Pamilco, 77-55, on Wednesday night.
The game will tipoff at 2 p.m., and the winner will play in next weekend’s 1-A state championship game in Raleigh.
“It felt good, but we know we have to stay hungry,” Barrett said. “We can’t be arrogant. We have to stay hungry and humble and get ready for the next game.”
Rocky Mount Prep extended its lead in every quarter.
The Jaguars lowest single-quarter total (16 points) was higher than Camden’s highest (12).
By the end of the game, Reams didn’t have to yell very loudly for his starters to hear. They were all sitting right next to him.
“I yell at them, I scream at them, but I want them to do the best they can so we can move on and make history,” Reams said.
Rocky Mount Prep 72 Camden 41 C 7 12 12 10 – 41 RMP 18 19 19 16 – 72 C: Shaquille Joyner (13 points); Brett Forbes (9 points); Kendell Wilson (9 points); Jake McDaniels (4 points); Michael Hill (3 points); Mark Nelson (2 points); William Evans (1 point). RMP: Jacob Barrett (16 points); Donte Samuels (15 points); Deshawn Freeman (13 points); Keneen Deberry (8 points); Gary Smith (7 points); James Bonds (6 points); Aaron Oates (4 points); Jermaine Jones (2 points); Markevion Pittman (1 point).
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or firstname.lastname@example.org