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Beating a team three times in one season is a chore, any coach will say, and Hunt High varsity boys basketball coach Dwight Taylor will readily admit that he prefers the odds of preventing that when his team is the underdog.
Unfortunately for the Warriors, they were the favorites Thursday in the second round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A playoffs. No. 24-seeded Rocky Mount, which lost twice to Hunt during Big East Conference regular-season play, proved to not be a willing victim for a third time as the Gryphons upset the No. 8 Warriors 71-59 on their own court.
“I like to get three shots at people but that’s the way it came up. We were trying to get one more win,” said Taylor, whose team finished 17-9, falling in the second round for the second straight year.
Taylor pointed directly to poor free-throw shooting by his team as a major reason for the loss. Hunt hit just 13-of-26 attempts from the line for 50% accuracy. Meanwhile, the Gryphons (14-11) made 13 more foul shots in the 12-point win, going 26 of 33 (78.8%).
Taylor also blamed some missed shots from point-blank range by the Warriors, the Big East regular-season champions, as well as the game plan of Rocky Mount to apply defensive pressure to Hunt sophomore point guard Ty’Chaun Clay, who still led the Warriors with 17 points.
“I thought they did a good job of taking the ball out of Clay’s hands and forcing some other people to initiate the offense,” Taylor said.
Seniors Shakei Hines with 16 points and Shaq Wade with 10 points were Hunt’s only two other scorers in double digits while the Gryphons, who tied for second in the Big East, had five. Freshman Jamal Townsend led the way with 16 points while sophomore Jahsun Ward and junior 6-foot-5, 250-pound post Keeshawn Silver each scored 13.
Taylor said that Hunt started in a zone defense but the Gryphons hit four 3-pointers in the first quarter, pulling the Warriors into a man-for-man defense. The contest went back and forth until about midway through the fourth quarter when Ward hit a corner 3 to send the Gryphons up by eight points. Hunt never got it back to a two-possession game.
“It was a free-throw contest (after that),” Taylor said. “They were the making theirs and we were missing ours.”
It was the final game for Hunt’s Tiquez Taylor, Justin Hammonds, Wade and Hines in a senior season that saw them overcome a five-game losing streak in the first three weeks.
“They did an excellent job, a real tight-knit group. Those seniors came to work every day and got better,” Dwight Taylor said. “We can’t hang our heads on anything. We did some good things this year and the kids did come around. We didn’t start as quickly as we wanted to but they worked hard and stayed focused.”
ROCKY MOUNT (71)
Thompson 4, Townsend 16, Parker 3, Jones 10, Hines-Williams 8, Ward 13, J. Lynch 2, Tillery 2, Silver 13.
Clay 17, Wade 10, Keen 5, Taylor 2, Hines 16, Carmon 1, Jones 4, Joyner 4.
Score by quarters:
Rocky Mount 19 11 16 25 — 71
Hunt 15 14 13 17 — 59