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The Hunt High School varsity boys basketball team did not finish well, but by hanging on for a 73-64 victory at home against Rocky Mount on Tuesday night, the Warriors seized sole possession of the 3-A Big East Conference lead.
The Warriors swished 6-of-8 free throws in the final 34 seconds to climb to 2-0 in the Big East and to 8-5 in all games. Rocky Mount departed 1-1 and 4-8, respectively.
Hunt, winner of six straight contests, breaks from conference action with a nonconference test at 2-A Greene Central on Wednesday night, but returns to conference play against Southern Nash on Friday.
The Warriors of head coach Dwight Taylor cruised to a 51-36 cushion late in the third quarter . However, a 7-0 flurry from the Gryphons of head coach Mike Gainey appeared to chop the deficit to 64-58 in the closing seconds.
The scorebook, however, indicated Rocky Mount did not actually drew that close, crediting the Warriors with three more points than were displayed on the scoreboard. The scoreboard reflected a final score of 70-64.
Hunt sophomore TyChaun Clay and senior ShyKei Hines each drained a pair of free throws in the final 20 seconds.
Clay capped a precedent-setting evening with a career-high 29 points. Clay ignited the Warriors by draining four shots from 3-point land in the opening quarter.
“The team has the mindset that we’re not going to lose a conference game,” Clay declared. “We trust each other, and I can shoot the ball and there won’t be any doubt about it.”
However, Clay divulged he has struggled with his long-distance shot of late, connecting on one 3-point attempt in last Friday’s conference win against defending champion Northern Nash.
“My confidence went up,” Clay, the point guard, reasoned. “I didn’t hardly miss any (3-point shots) in warm-ups and I kind of felt it at the start of the game.”
Taylor praised Clay’s performance, commenting: “He pretty much plays at one speed — and it was a good speed for us tonight. We needed that kind of game from him. It was pretty big. We’ve got to work on the end of the game and the decisions he needs to make.”
Another Hunt positive was the defensive job against 6-foot-5, 250-pound junior Rocky Mount brute Keeshawn Silver who is attracting major NCAA Division I football interest as a defensive end. Silver’s 12 points led the Gryphons.
“We did great some of the time,” Taylor reviewed. “(Sophomore) C.J. (Joyner) came in and gave us some really solid minutes. He did a good job of fronting (Silver). They were trying to lob the ball over him, but he’s so athletic that he was getting a piece of the basketball. But once (Silver) got his hands on the ball, there was no stopping him.”
The Warriors trailed 13-12 in the opening quarter when a pair of 3’s from Clay and two baskets off steals resulted in a 10-0 tear that produced an 22-15 Hunt lead after one quarter.
Hunt never trailed again. A 3-pointer each from Hines and senior Tiquez Taylor keyed the Warriors to a 39-27 halftime margin.
Clay’s only second-half 3-pointer sparked the 7-0 run that zipped the Warriors out front, 51-36. Rocky Mount battled back behind three garbage buckets underneath from Dar’Savius Williams, who had just entered the game.
Clay was complemented by Hines with 13 points and Taylor with 12. Jackson Thompson added 11 points for the Gryphons.
Rocky Mount’s match-up zone limited Clay to 10 points in the second half.
“But we found some open holes,” Clay explained. “They went man, but I’ve got speed and they had to try to stay in front of me. I was able to get some shots.”
Taylor and senior Shaq Wade addressed Hunt’s poor finish that prevented the coaching staff from resting players for two games in the next three nights. The Warriors failed to milk the clock because of quick shots and unforced turnovers.
“I liked the way TyChaun played,” Wade said. “He has gained his confidence; he played the same way against Northern Nash.
“But we didn’t finish the game; we made the game harder than it was.
“But, every game, somebody picks up the slack. That’s what I love about this team.”
ROCKY MOUNT (64)
Thompson 11, Lawrence 2, Townsend 7, Jones 8, Hines-Williams 6, Ward 2, Dunston 2, Cherry, Williams 6, Blount, Lynch 4, Tillery, Pounds, Silver 12, Lynch 4.
Clay 29, Wade 6, Keen, Taylor 12, Hines 13, Carmon, Hammonds 2, Horne 2, Jones 7, Barron, Joyner 2.
Score by quarters:
Rocky Mount 15 12 15 22 — 64
Hunt 22 17 13 21 — 73