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PAST ISSUES
NEW-6 tourney kicks off
ROCKY MOUNT -- Rocky Mount's boys basketball coaching staff must have let out a large collective sigh at the end of its game Monday night. After all, the Gryphons put an end to their three-game losing streak and kept their playoff hopes alive.

RMHS got 23 points and 12 rebounds from freshman forward Tashawn Mabry as the Gryphons beat SouthWest Edgecombe 65-57 in the opening round of the NEW 6 Basketball Tournament at Nash Central.

Rocky Mount, seeded fifth, will next face No. 1 seed Nash Central (21-2) in the semifinals Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. The winner will advance to Friday's championship game (7:30 p.m.).

The Gryphons (12-12) came into the postseason on the heels of dropping contests to Nash Central, Wilson Fike and Northern Nash. Their last win came at home on Jan. 30 against Southern Nash - RMHS' sole victory in its last seven league contests.

So you had to know this one was sweet to Gryphons head coach Mike Gainey.

"The players took over and just got their heads together to get this win," said Gainey, whose squad is still on the bubble for getting an NCHSAA 3-A state playoff berth. In his 10th season at Rocky Mount, Gainey's teams have made it the previous nine campaigns. "I didn't do a pregame speech. We showed the team the movie "The Gridiron Gang" before coming over here and we took some inspiration from that.

"Someone had to step up and be a leader tonight," Gainey said. "Their backs were through the wall, not against it. I don't know what was said in the locker room. All the coaches left them to themselves. We told them to come out when they were ready."

But SouthWest (11-10) didn't just wither and go away. The 2006 NEW 6 Player of the Year Eugene Jenkins made sure of that -- at least in the first half. The Cougars' guard fired in 15 points in the opening 16 minutes. But Mabry countered with 10 as the Gryphons had a slight 30-27 advantage at the half.

In the second half, almost every Rocky Mount player that hit the floor made contributions to help the Gryphons to slowly pull away.

On the inside, Mabry and sophomore forward Montrell Battle (17 points), who missed SWE's last matchup with Rocky Mount, were getting points. Point guard Alonzo Sharpe found his mid-range jump shot and forwards Nick Hutcheson (nine rebounds) and guard Brian Goodwin were either pulling down key rebounds, or in Goodwin's case, putting the clamps on SWE's Jenkins. He only scored two points in the second half.

"I saw hustle tonight," Gainey said. "They were chasing after loose balls, getting more rebounds. Nick played great tonight and that fed into Montrell playing well. Brian Goodwin really stepped up and played great defense on Jenkins. That took SouthWest out of its game."

Rocky Mount led 44-39 headed into the final quarter and it used a 8-3 flurry early to move the margin to 10. A Jarmel Shape 3-point play narrowed RMHS' lead to 54-49 with 3:58 left, but another 5-0 run got the Gryphs a 59-49 lead with 2:21 remaining.

SNHS: Southern Nash's boys opened the tournament with a matchup with Northern Nash Monday, but the Firebird faithful couldn't see what was about to come.

You might say third-seeded Southern was thrown down a well and just managed not to drown.

The Firebirds trailed by a massive 18 points at halftime (29-11) but they miraculously came back, scored 50 points in the second half and won the contest 61-51.

Southern (8-15) will tangle with No. 2-seeded Wilson Fike (16-7) Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the other semifinal. The two teams split their regular season meetings.

"Coach (Robbie) Kennedy told them that (the first half) was embarrassing. They didn't come out ready to play and it was probably the worst half they had played all year," said Southern assistant coach Brian Rice of Kennedy's halftime talk. "He and I basically left the locker room and I don't know what happened, but whatever the seniors said to the team, they came out five minutes later and was a completely different ball team."

A 16-0 run to start the third quarter energized the Firebirds. The sixth-seeded Knights (8-16) were playing without senior center Steven Baker, who was ruled academically ineligible earlier in the day. Northern didn't seem to miss him in the first half, but putting virtually the entire offensive load on senior Brian Thomas wasn't the answer to the Knights' problems.

Thomas got a team-high 25 points, but it was Southern's Marcus Howard who helped turned the tide for the Firebirds. He scored a game-high 29 points, many coming in Southern's 25-point third stanza. A Howard layup followed by a long 3-pointer got Southern its first lead at 41-38 with 6:53 left in the third. The Firebirds wound up putting 25 more points in the fourth to complete the comeback.

"We told them that sometimes when a team loses a major player, everyone else on the team steps it up and that's what Northern did in the first half," said Rice of the Knights' missing its center. "Northern's guys came ready to play.

"Bryan (Tabron) and Kwamaine (Battle) get us going, but Marcus is the heart and soul of the team," Rice added. "If he plays well, we have a real good chance of winning."

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