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ROCKY MOUNT — Absent an unconscious display from 3-point range, the anatomy for an upset in high school basketball tournament play requires efficiency around the rim and protecting the ball from needless empty possessions.
The Fike High boys received none of the three in Friday’s 3-A Big East Conference tournament championship game at Rocky Mount Event Center.
Fike turned the ball over 22 times, and a 13-0 run by top-seeded Northern Nash to close the first quarter gave the Knights a comfortable lead they wouldn’t relinquish in a 68-54 victory.
The Golden Demons, the No. 3 tournament seed but owners of the No. 2 seed for purposes of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association playoffs after their semifinals win over Southern Nash, dropped to 17-9. Northern Nash, in winning its 24th game in 25 tries, has captured 32 of its last 33 Big East games in either the regular season or tournament over the last three seasons.
Holding an early 8-7 lead, the Demons were victimized by eight straight points from Northern Nash sharpshooter Sam Page, and a banked-in 3-pointer by tournament Most Valuable Player Davontae Wiggins at the buzzer left Fike down 20-8 after one quarter.
Fike would get the margin no closer than nine points the rest of the way.
“They make you pay for your mistakes,” Fike head coach Brent Secrest said of Northern Nash. “We did not play at a high level tonight. We missed a lot of layups, missed foul shots and we did not rebound. They got a lot of offensive rebounds, and I told the guys, if we cut out those offensive rebounds, we’re in the game, because a lot of their points came off second and third attempts. They made us play at a high level, and we didn’t do it tonight.”
Senior Kavaris Evans, who led Fike with 17 points, attempted to keep Fike in the game before halftime. With senior guard Jaylen Ward in foul trouble having picked up two quick personals in the first 2:41, Evans finished the first half after Ward’s return with Fike’s final eight points of the half, and what was a 15-point Northern Nash lead was cut to 34-22 at the half.
Page, who netted 14 of his 17 in the first half, was held without a 3-pointer in the second half after Fike rotated the like of Evans, junior Trevon Atkinson and junior Mason Lee on him defensively. A putback from junior Moses Parker to open the third quarter left Fike down by 10, but a quick 6-0 spurt, culminating on an easy Page layup off a Fike turnover, left the Demons down 40-24 just 1:48 into the third quarter as Northern Nash’s length in the backcourt made it difficult for Fike to sustain any momentum.
The Demons’ biggest deficit was 19 on three occasions, including a 56-37 disparity in the fourth.
“I think when they got down, they tried to push it and rush it and were trying to do things that weren’t there instead of staying within the flow of the game for us,” Secrest said. “A couple of times, we’re still within 12 with plenty of time left, and we just couldn’t get over that hump.”
The Demons forced 16 Northern Nash turnovers and pulled within nine at 60-51 on Ward’s layup with under three minutes remaining. However, Northern Nash’s Tarod Brown responded with consecutive layups, and Secrest cleared his bench with under 90 seconds remaining.
Fike, Hunt and Southern Nash each placed two players on the all-tournament team, with Cooper and Evans getting the call for the Demons. Hunt was represented by freshman TyChaun Clay and junior Shaq Wade, while the Firebirds got senior Darius Edmundson and junior Chris Allen. Cooper tossed in 13 points for Fike.
In earning MVP accolades, Wiggins finished one rebound shy of a double-double, notching 10 points and nine boards.
Despite falling short in the Big East final, Fike is well aware it did the most good for its playoff prospects with its semifinal win over the Firebirds — so much so that Demons brass expects a home game in the first round Tuesday.
“Our game was the second round,” Secrest said. “And we got what we needed to do the second round. Tonight, great if you win it, you want to be the conference tournament champion, but it makes no difference next week whether we win this or lose this.”
Ward 4, Atkinson 2, Evans 17, Cooper 13, Dickerson 2, Wilder 2, Phelps 3, Lee 3, Johnson, Thomas, Parker 8.
NORTHERN NASH (68)
Reams 4, Page 17, Flowers 8, Johnson, Richardson 5, Freeman 6, Ricks, Battle 2, Wiggins 10, Brown 14, Woodley, Whitaker, Davis, Hughes 2.
Score by quarters:
Fike 8 14 13 19 — 54
Northern Nash 20 14 18 16 — 68