Knights not looking to dwell on Tuesday's near upset


Northern Nash’s Darquez Flowers, center, attempts to make a shot while Hunt’s Zion May, left, and Hunt’s Tiquez Taylor try to block him Friday at Northern Nash High School.


Sports Writer

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Wednesday’s practice could have gone a few different ways for Northern Nash, which nearly blew a double-digit home lead on Tuesday to Cleveland in the first round of the NCHSAA 3-A postseason tournament.

But from the initial moments after the surprising 72-68 result in the locker room, to the two-hour session in preparation for today’s home second round game against Fayetteville-Westover at 6:30 p.m., positivity was the directional choice for the Knights’ coaching staff.

Head coach Henry Drake’s message: Life, and this tournament, are too short to worry about a No. 31 seed nearly upsetting the No. 2 seed Knights (24-1).

“They came a little bit more focused today,” Drake, after Wednesday’s practice, said. “We decided when we went in the locker room, to keep everything positive and cool. We’re hoping that type of closeness will help in the next round.”

There was also no need for closure.

“The feeling was -- I just told them, ‘I’m not going to talk about how bad we played,’” Drake continued. “No need to relive it. There’s 16 other teams that didn’t move on. We have a clean slate.”

The Knights led by as many as 10 points in the fourth quarter on Tuesday, but Cleveland (11-17), playing the entirety of its year in honor of its former coach, John Jacobs, who died of cancer six days before the season began, showed its resiliency on the road by tying the game at 62 with a 15-5 run. After the Knights pushed the lead back to 69-62, the Rams again made it interesting with a 6-0 run to pull within one point in the final minutes.

Some clutch plays by Darquez Flowers, who scored a team-high 25 points, finally put the game away, but key contributions off the bench earlier in the game by Jordan Lynch and Maliek Dawes, Drake said, also helped the Knights.

“Those two guys stood out last night,” he said. “Those guys off the bench gave us a boost that helped us at the right time.”

The second round matchup against No. 18 Fayetteville-Westover (20-4) today will be a new challenge for the Knights, who haven’t yet played them this season, and, as Drake joked, exist mostly on MaxPreps to the Northern Nash coaching staff.

One thing that immediately sticks out on the Wolverines’ roster is their height; Westover has two players at 6-foot-8 and one at 6-foot-6, something the Knights, whose starters all hover around 6-foot-2, haven’t seen much of this year.

The coaching staff on Wednesday stressed all of the basics with rebounding and boxing out, given the outsized circumstances. Beyond that, there’s no misconceptions about what needs to happen in what they still hope can be a special season and a deep tournament run.

“We know what’s at jeopardy. It’s a lot of pressure for us being the No. 2 seed,” Drake said. “This could be their last practice. Tomorrow could be their last game. We’ve got to make adjustments quickly -- no letdowns like we had last night.”

Nash Central looks for another road win

On Tuesday night, in the 60-59 overtime victory for the No. 17 Nash Central girls against No. 16 Bunn, it looked in the final seconds like a second overtime would be the best case scenario for the Bulldogs.

Bunn, hosting the first round of the 2-A NCHSAA tournament, had the ball in a tied game with three seconds left underneath its own basket. A deflection on the inbounds pass ended up in the hands of Nash Central’s My'ka Hedgepeth who was fouled with .6 seconds, and despite just missing a pair, knocked down one of two for the overtime playoff victory.

The Bulldogs scored just 14 points in the first half but got back in the game with a big 21-point third quarter, aided by a mixture of bench players and starters.

“As the game went on, the bench got really into it,” coach Terri Cash said. “The energy came from our bench. The girls hung in until we got it together in the third; they were ecstatic after the game.”

With the win for Nash Central comes a matchup today in the second round on the road against No. 1 seed Kinston (26-1). The Bulldogs faced them once this season, a 50-32 victory on Dec. 27 for the Vikings.

“They’re big, bigger than we are. We’re going to need to rebound the ball,” Cash said. “A lot has changed since Christmas. Were going in as the underdog, but this time of year any team can win on any given night.”