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Knights catch Gryphons in clash between Big East's bests

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Rocky Mount High’s Rodney Alston, right, tries to block Northern Nash’s DaShawn Liggins, left, shot as Liggins loses control of the ball Friday at Northern Nash High School.

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By PATRICK MASON
Sports Writer

Friday, February 9, 2018

DaShawn Liggins heard the crowd erupt as he leaked behind the Rocky Mount High defense.

The Northern Nash senior remembered hearing the ear-splitting cheers, then immediately tried to silence his mind. He still had to put the ball in the basket, after all. Liggins finished the layup, then drew a foul moments later and split a pair of free throws.

Liggins capped the Knights comeback run by scoring the final three points of the game as Northern Nash earned a 70-67 victory over the visiting Gryphons in a Big East Conference game on Friday.

“I just had to let it all go,” Liggins said. “I was just worried about finishing. Just had to stay focused.”

RMH (17-3, 7-1) is the lone team to beat the Knights this season, an overtime victory on Dec. 15 in the Nash County Christmas tournament. This time, however, RMH could not put away the Knights.

With a six-point lead at 67-61 with less than two minutes to go, the Gryphons were held captive by a Knights team that trimmed the lead. RMH went scoreless in the final 1:43, while Northern Nash (21-1, 8-0) roared back to score the final nine points.

Undray Cherry and Darquez Flowers each drained a 3-point shot to even the score with 1:09 left. RMH guard Javeon Jones then dribbled about 50 seconds off the clock in hopes of taking the final shot, but his driving attempt missed, allowing an aware Liggins to race to his basket to receive a full-court heave that he turned into the go-ahead score.

“He’s so quick,” Knights coach Henry Drake said of Liggins. “We teach our guys to look to our basket after a rebound, and when (Jones) went up I thought we were down, but it fell and (Liggins) is so quick he made a play.

“He’s been improving since November, he’s stepped up his game and is a very instrumental piece on this team.”

Drake gave the senior Liggins a start on senior night and the guard responded with 12 points. Sam Page, the Knights’ other point guard, came off the bench to score 16 points, backed by a trio of 3-pointers, and even added a pair of blocks.

“We played good down the stretch and trusted each other,” Page said. “All year they’ve been telling me to shoot it, and tonight I was there, caught up in the game and it was falling. It’s a good feeling to do it in a big game and big moment.”

With Page showing that he had to be guarded tightly after knocking down a pair of 3s early in the first quarter, Cherry took advantage of some space in the lane to bleed the Gryphons one mid-range jumper at a time.

Cherry scored 10 of his team-high 26 points in the fourth quarter as the Knights erased a 52-48 deficit heading into the final frame.

RMH fell behind early, 20-15 in the first quarter, then trailed 34-28 at halftime. But Rodney Alston erased that deficit in the first 2 minutes by hitting back-to-back 3s. Alston shot 10 of 17 from the floor with eight 3-pointers for a game-high 31 points.

“You just have to stay there, keep your hand up and get on him,” Liggins said of defending Alston on the perimeter. “We know when he’s open that he’s a shooter. He’s the most dangerous one they have.”

The left-handed perimeter threat hit a 3 in every quarter and scored in bursts. He forced the Knights to stay in a man defense as the Gryphons searched for a matchup advantage all game.

“Rodney Alston is one of the purest shooters on the floor in this conference,” Drake said. “We were just hoping he would miss one and we’ll get lucky. Lady luck was on our side tonight.”

GIRLS

Rocky Mount High 47

Northern Nash 38

The final score suggests a tight game, but Rocky Mount High was in control throughout in a Big East Conference win.

Mya Pittman paced the Gryphons (11-10, 3-5) with a game-high 19 points. Pittman and the Gryphons started fast and shot 8 of 14 from the floor in the opening quarter to take a 20-5 lead. Pittman scored 15 points in the frame, including scoring on four straight attempts.

Alexis Moore added a pair of 3-pointers for six points, while Summer Hicks added 12 points off the bench.

By halftime, the Gryphons led 33-15 and didn’t surrender any ground in the third quarter as their 42-24 lead heading into the fourth proved to be enough to withstand a strong quarter by the Knights.

Northern Nash (12-6, 4-4) won the past meeting in the Nash County Christmas tournament by 12 points, but couldn’t find consistent scoring this time around.

Shamiya Mercer, who is averaging 9 points per game, finished with a team-high 16, though 14 of those points came in the second half. Kristian Johnson added nine points, with Markela Avent scoring five in the loss.

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