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Northern Nash hoops sweep Franklinton

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By PATRICK MASON
Sports Writer

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The whiteboard inside Northern Nash’s locker room was blank Friday.

Normally covered with detailed player assignments, offensive and defensive strategies and scouting reports, the board offered no help for the players who have made a habit of studying its content.

Knights boys’ basketball coach Henry Drake’s choice to play their 3-A Big East Conference opener against Franklinton without the aid of a whiteboard filled with information involved a touch of symbolism and a dash of simply not knowing enough about the Rams.

Northern Nash struggled after not playing a game in 14 days, but overcame a sloppy effort to earn a 69-45 win over its new conference member.

“Today, when the players went into the locker room, they asked why nothing was on the board,” Drake said. “Tonight was all about everybody plays, and everybody starts with clean slate. Tonight was about starting fresh against a team we’d never seen before.”

The Knights (14-1, 1-0) had little trouble navigating their nonconference schedule, picking up a tournament win and a tournament title game appearance along the way. Against Franklinton, the Knights’ road wasn’t as smooth.

The offense had trouble scoring early as outside shots refused to fall, while the tempo was either too slow or too fast.

“Our help-side defense could be better,” guard DaShawn Liggins said. “Sharing the ball more, swinging it and feeding the post are things we have to clean up. We were living from the outside too much and we weren’t hitting.”

Despite the shortcomings for a team that is poised to make another deep playoff run, the Knights controlled the the game throughout. A 30-22 halftime lead gave way to an 11-point lead heading into the final frame.

The fourth quarter was when the Knights began to look like a team with 14 wins in mid-January. Liggins was the catalyst when he began to hound the Rams’ ball-handler. The senior forced three turnovers in a row that led to easy buckets on the other end.

Joseph Cherry-Blue, who collected several turnovers created by his teammate, finished with a team-high 16 points. Darquez Flowers added 12 points, with Sam Page adding eight with a pair of 3-pointers.

“We expected to be rusty, we expected to do things out of our character, and we did all of those things,” Drake said. “We knew what was going to happen. We knew we would struggle at some point. And once we started pressuring the basketball, we started forcing turnovers and getting easy baskets that led to our goal of starting off 1-0 in the conference.”

Girls

Northern Nash 34

Franklinton 33

Shamiya Mercer didn’t want to feel like she had let her team down.

The Northern Nash senior said she took responsibility for Dec. 1 loss to Greenville Conley after she wasn’t able to connect on her free throws late in the overtime loss. Mercer, however, was given a chance to redeem herself on Friday against visiting Franklinton in the opening game of 3-A Big East Conference play.

The Rams (8-4, 0-1) took their first lead of the game with about 90 seconds remaining, before Mercer found her way to the foul line for a pair of shots. Mercer, who had missed her previous two foul shots, looked calm with her Knights trailing 31-30.

Mercer drained both shots, and celebrated the first by leaping into the air after the ball swirled around the rim before falling through the net. Her two points gave the Knights the lead back, one they would keep.

“I felt like I lost us that Conley game even though it ended up going to overtime,” Mercer said. “I just thought back to that game and how I didn’t want to lose us another. I put that on me, so I made sure to come through.”

The Knights (9-2, 1-0) are off to a hot start, largely paced by their defensive effort. Friday’s win was no different as Northern Nash relied on an aggressive defense to disrupt a Franklinton offense that had scored at least 46 points in each of the past eight games before running into the Knights.

A steady diet of zone defenses gave way to a man set in the fourth quarter, the ideal style of play for coach Grover Battle.

“When we switched to a man, that helped us out,” Battle said. “We were much more aggressive than in our zone, and that helped us quite a bit. That’s what I want to play, more man-to-man, and our girls have to grow and get better for us to play it a lot.”

While the Knights defense was able to keep Franklinton in check, the offense struggled. Ball-handlers Markela Avent and Mercer each picked up early fouls and sat on the bench as a result for longer than Battle would have liked.

And with a lack of players who run point, Northern Nash struggled to maintain possessions. The Knights committed 32 turnovers, including 20 by halftime. Scoring fewer points than turnovers committed is not a trend they want to continue.

“Their aggressiveness had some to do with it,” Mercer said of the Rams’ play. “We had some rust, too. This is a game where we trust that our offense will come if we play good defense.”

Northern Nash had just enough on both ends of the floor to open conference play with a win.

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