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Firebirds hold on to beat Rocky Mount in crucial Big East win

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Southern Nash's Tyler Wilson, front left, drives to the basket as Rocky Mount High's Javeon Jones, right, and Shyheim Battle defend Tuesday during the game at Southern Nash High School.

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By SAMUEL EVERS
Sports Writer

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

BAILEY —- Finally, when it mattered most, someone made some free throws.

Staring a potentially disheartening loss in the face, Southern Nash’s Tyler Wilson had a gut-check moment Tuesday night on his walk to the charity stripe.

Way back in the beginning of the third quarter, Wilson’s fourth 3-pointer of the game gave the Firebirds an 18-point lead over visiting Rocky Mount.

Fast forward to 38.9 seconds left in the game, and two made free throws would wrestle back a one-point lead from the Gryphons, who had just stormed back to take their first lead since the first quarter.

The Firebirds, in a bumpy fourth quarter, had made just two of six free throws.

Wilson made his first, then his second for a 60-59 lead, assuming the lead for good in a 64-62 Big East win for the Firebirds.

“Just tried to do the same things I do in practice every time,” said Wilson, who finished with 23. “When we practice, we do a drill where I’m the last person shooting free throws. Usually coach puts a lot of pressure on me to make those.”

The win for Southern Nash (13-9, 6-3), currently third in the Big East, still gives them a chance at a second place finish in conference, while Rocky Mount (17-4, 7-2) suffered its second loss in a row, relinquishing the Big East title to Northern Nash (22-1, 9-0), which beat Wilson Fike 75-72 on Tuesday, ahead of its matchup with the Knights on Thursday. The top four teams in the conference make the postseason.

The final scoring output on Tuesday for the Firebirds, 64, was just enough for the win, and almost half of it came in the second quarter, when Southern Nash built its lead with an eight-minute long sequence of beautifully played basketball.

They made six 3-pointers and scored 30 points during the period.

“We played like we’re capable of,” coach Robbie Kennedy said. “We made shots, we attacked, played good defense.”

Added Wilson: “We were all confident, making shots, playing hard. We do that in practice but it finally worked well in the game.”

But that display gave way to a sloppy third quarter for both teams, filled with turnovers and missed foul shots, with only 21 combined points scored.

The Gryphons were one of nine from the free throw line in that quarter and missed 14 for game, but still entered the fourth down just eight points because of a seven-point output from the Firebirds.

“Turnovers and missed free throws,” Rocky Mount coach Michael Gainey said. “You don’t do those things, it makes it very difficult to win.”

Against the odds, Rocky Mount fought back, with Javeon Jones (seven fourth quarter points) leading the way on offense. A defensive press confused Southern Nash, which relinquished its lead when Shyheim Battle made one of two at the line to break a tie at 58.

But Wilson grabbed the rebound on the missed free throw, got fouled, and bucked the trend. He knocked down both and Jalen Lucas made three of four at the line after him to help yield off the Gryphons, despite a desperation 3-pointer by Jones that brought Rocky Mount within one point with three seconds left.

“I thought our guys were really tough mentally when we went down one,” Kennedy said. “No matter who we play next week in the playoffs, we aren’t going to play anybody better than Rocky Mount or Northern. If we can play four quarters, maybe we can make a little noise.”

Girls: Rocky Mount 46, Southern Nash 31

Southern Nash, playing host to Rocky Mount on Tuesday, hung with the Gryphons early, trailing by five after one period and six at the half, but couldn’t keep up in an eventual 46-31 loss.

The Gryphons (12-10, 4-5) were led by 14 points from Mya Pittman and 10 from Summer Hicks, while Southern Nash (1-19, 1-8) was led by Rayna Bailey, who had 12.

The Firebirds won their first game of the season on Feb. 9, beating Franklinton, 32-29.

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