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ROCKY MOUNT — Prospective at-large playoff teams in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A boys basketball ranks can finally breathe a little easier going into Sunday’s seeding process.
Fike High will not be stealing one of the available spots into the field.
However, that fate wasn’t cemented until the final two-plus minutes of Friday’s Big East tournament championship game at Northern Nash.
Undermanned Fike, having its ranks slimmed prior to the conference tournament, owned a six-point lead in the third quarter and tied the game at 58 with 4:43 to play.
But the Golden Demons, with only nine players available, ran into a spate of empty possessions over the final four minutes that finally ended their season and allowed Northern Nash, hosting both the boys and girls championship games as the highest remaining boys seed, to a 74-64 victory.
Fike, which defeated Franklinton and regular-season champion Hunt to reach the finals as a No. 5 seed, instead finished the year with a 9-15 record in losing in the tournament finals for the second straight year. Northern Nash, the No. 2 seed, moved to 21-5 and awaits its opponent when the brackets are revealed Sunday.
“No one expected us to be here,” Fike head coach Brent Secrest said. “No one expected us to win the first game of the tournament and no one expected us to go to Hunt and win. The guys overcame that, played within themselves and we just fell a little bit short tonight.”
Moses Parker, one of a handful of seniors playing their final game for the Demons, played as if he wanted to extend his career by at least another game. Parker was a menace inside for Northern Nash in the first half off the pick and roll, collecting 17 of his game-high 24 points in that span. His dunk put Fike up 30-29 in the second quarter, but Northern Nash responded with a 9-3 spurt — including a lob on an out-of-bounds play as the half expired. The ball was inbounded to tournament Most Valuable Player Kameron Johnson, who leapt and laid it in with no backside help present to leave Fike in a 38-33 hole at halftime.
Yet just as Fike teetered with going down double digits, outside shooting turned a 42-35 deficit into a 14-1 Demons run and a six-point lead. Back-to-back 3-pointers by sophomore Kyshon Atkinson and junior Khouri Carvey chopped the lead to one, and senior Mason Lee’s trey put Fike ahead for the first time in the second half. The lead become six on senior Trevon Atkinson’s transition’s layup and another Kyshon Atkinson shot from beyond the arc.
Northern Nash made a late run as Fike’s effort to spread the floor backfired with a three-point play, but Trevon Atkinson’s baseline jumper sent the Demons into the fourth with a 53-51 edge.
Fike reached the fourth with the lead despite the third personal foul on Parker with 4:32 remaining in the period. Lamont Batts, a junior, entered and logged credible minutes to bridge the gap.
Northern Nash opened the fourth quarter on a 7-0 run, using Xavier Whitaker’s 3-pointer to take the lead with 7:07 to go. The Demons wouldn’t lead again, but from 58-53, Parker converted a three-point play and Kyshon Atkinson beat the defense down the floor in transition to tie it at 58.
Unfortunately for Fike though, its inability to find looks of quality in the final four minutes was compounded by Northern Nash’s efficiency at the foul line. The Knights were 22 of 28 from the free-throw line, compared to just 7 for 9 for Fike. In extending the margin late, Northern Nash was 14 for 19 in the fourth quarter alone.
The 3-pointer was available for Northern Nash in the first half via sheer necessity for Fike, as the Demons relied on zone defense to preserve legs and fouls. In the second half, the Knights, who made six 3-pointers in the first half, began attacking the basket more and earning trips to the line once in the bonus.
“I think going into the third quarter, we were 50% shooting 3s at halftime,” Northern Nash head coach Henry Drake said. “We told them, we can’t rely on that. We’ve got to start attacking the basket and do what we do offensively. We did that in the last three minutes of the ballgame, and I think that’s what made the difference.”
Indeed, once Fike realized its final tie at 58, consecutive layups from Jordan Hughes and Caleb Reams — the latter off a turnover — made it a two-possession game. After Fike missed a shot that could have brought it back to a one-score game, Reams penetrated the middle and made a floater to put the Knights up 65-58. The Demons were soon forced to extend matters via fouls and succumbed to foul shooting.
Reams led Northern Nash with 14 points, while Trevon Atkinson and Kyshon Atkinson had 18 and 13 points, respectively.
“We were in a dogfight,” Parker said. “But we stuck with them and just came up short.”
Parker and Kyshon Atkinson made the all-tournament team from Fike, being joined by Shaq Wade and Shakei Hines, both of Hunt.
K. Atkinson 13, Lee 6, Carvey 3, T. Atkinson 18, Parker 24, Batts.
NORTHERN NASH (74)
Johnson 11, Reams 14, Freeman 7, Bullock 9, Whitaker 9, Battle 9, Davis 6, Hughes 9.
Score by quarters:
Fike 19 14 20 11 — 64
Northern Nash 17 21 13 23 — 74