ROCK HILL — A nine-point, fourth-quarter run over a two-minute span helped Rock Hill emerge from a bruising Region 3 encounter Tuesday night against Nation Ford with a 63-59 win.
Carson Smith nailed a 3, part of his game-high 32 points, to pull the Falcons within four of the Bearcats at 53-49, with 3 minutes, 16 seconds left. But the host Bearcats ripped off nine straight points to build a 10-point lead and, despite hitting just 5 of 10 fourth quarter free throws, held off the visitors for a gutsy region win.
It took us a while to get going, said Rock Hill coach Eric Rollings, but we weathered the storm. Nation Fords fighting to get in the playoffs, and its tough when youre playing those teams that know theyve got to win.
Smith torched the nets much of the game, hitting a trio of 3-pointers in the first quarter, while Rock Hills scoring effort was far more diversified. Warren Vinson led the Bearcats with 14, Nate Motley and Deantae Fleming pitched in 10 each and Jaleel Scott and Jamil Simpson both contributed 8. It was offensive load-sharing thats typified the Bearcats approach this season.
We play as a team; we dont have one best player, said Vinson, a senior whos taking advantage of increased playing time. We all contribute.
Scott and Fleming were particularly active for Rock Hill in a game where the referees swallowed their whistles. The pair, along with Jaylen Reid, crashed the boards, drawing fouls and converting missed shots into fresh possessions.
We had probably 10 two-footers in the first half, point blank, and we didnt score, said Nation Ford coach Brian Turner. In the second half Rock Hill had so many second chance points. Thats the difference in the game. They probably had at least 12 points in second chance put-backs. First half we had the opportunity and we didnt make them, and lose by four.
The visiting Falcons hit six 3-pointers in the first half to jump out to a 17-8 lead behind Smith and Nick Turners net-scorching from distance. Rock Hill weathered the barrage and got back into the game, thanks partly to Vinsons sneakiness in leaking out for uncontested layups. He turned several Nation Ford turnovers into easy points at the other end, scoring 8 points in the first half, including back-to-back buckets that cut the Falcons lead to 17-15.
Josh Sergent continued Nation Fords shooting form with a triple from straight on to make it 23-17 in the second quarter, but Rock Hills bench was contributing and Malik Crawford knocked in a jumper before finding a slashing Scott for a wide-open deuce to tie the game at 23 all. Simpson, also off the pine, hit consecutive threes to cap a 12-1 Bearcat run and give Rollings team a 29-24 lead. Vinson then produced the highlight of the game, finding Roderick Howell at the rim for a firm alley-oop slam, but Turners team wouldnt let loose its grip and closed the halftime deficit to just two points at 31-29.
Rock Hill outscored the visitors by two in an equally tight second half. Tensions threatened to spill over on multiple occasions due to the unchecked physicality of play. But that was to be expected, especially considering Nation Fords Riley Hilton personally shot 21 free throws when the two teams met in December, also a Bearcat win. With Hilton largely kept in check, Smith stepped up for the Falcons, who are in the thick of a four-way battle for a Region 3 playoff spot, with South Pointe and Rock Hill firmly in control of the top-two spots.
Hes a good player, he wanted the ball and he wanted to put his team in the playoffs, Rollings said about Smith, a smooth-shooting lefty. Thats what big-time players do.
The same goes for big-time teams, and 10th-ranked Rock Hill did what was necessary to close out the scrappy win, something theyll have to keep doing if theyre to make the programs first postseason appearance since the 2008-09 season.
Its a five, hopefully six-month season, and its a grind, said Rollings in his office after the game. Its tough on our kids right now; five games to go and trying to keep that focus.
Rock Hill 63,
Nation Ford 59
Nation Ford: Nick Turner 3, Carson Smith 32, Riley Hilton 10, Jordan Causey 3, Ben Sidebotham 3, Josh Sergent 5, Hank Tuipulotu 5, Mike Campbell 3; Rock Hill: Nate Motley 10, Malik Crawford 2, Warren Vinson 14, Jaylen Reid 7, Roderick Howell 4, Jaleel Scott 8, Deantae Fleming 10, Jamil Simpson 8.
3-point goals: Nation Ford 7 (Smith 4, Turner, Causey, Sergent); Rock Hill 4 (Simpson 2, Vinson, Reid).
Team fouls: Nation Ford 16; Rock Hill 14.
Foul shooting: Nation Ford 12-14; Rock Hill 7-15.
Fouled out: Rock Hill, Reid.
Records: Nation Ford 8-11, 4-5; Rock Hill 14-5, 8-1.
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