HENDERSON --- The improbable run for the Roxboro Community School boys’ basketball team came to end, but not without one heck of a fight.
North Central Athletic Conference champion Henderson Collegiate pulled away in the final minutes for a 71-57 victory against RCS in the 1A East regional semifinals at Aycock Recreation Center in Henderson.
The Pride (30-2) will look to advance to the state championship game in just its first year in the playoffs when it challenges another new school, Washington County (26-1), Saturday in Greenville. Washington County was formed this school year with the consolidation of Plymouth and Creswell high schools.
Tuesday’s loss ended what was the deepest playoff run in RCS boys’ basketball program’s history.
The 27th-seeded Bulldogs finished the season at 15-15, but that’s only part of the story. The team’s memorable run to the 1A regional semifinals included three upsets, (6) Research Triangle, (11) Voyager Academy and (3) N.W. Halifax.
For RCS coach Justin Bettendorf, the ending doesn’t define his team’s journey.
“Everybody gave all they had,” Bettendorf said. “We gave a winning effort and that’s all we can ask for. There’s obviously big moments (in my life) like the birth of my daughter and getting married, but I told them that this was one of the best week and a halves of my life and I’m so glad to share it with this bunch of guys. I couldn’t ask for a better group.”
After losing by 37 points the last time the teams met, RCS stayed within striking distance of the deeper, taller Pride until the final moments in Tuesday’s playoff tilt.
Henderson Collegiate took a 47-41 lead into the fourth quarter and were up as many as nine in the opening minutes of the final frame, but RCS answered with a wide-open corner three by Dylan Jones to pull back within six with four minutes to play.
The Bulldogs, with only six players seeing the floor, were never closer.
Henderson Collegiate closed the game on a 14-6 run, many of those buckets coming on layups and dunks against the RCS press.
“Our legs were definitely giving out at the end,” Bettendorf said. “Belief has never been a problem with these guys. Even with a minute and a half to go and down 10, our guys still believed that we had a chance. It was time to gamble and we got burned. You’re either going to give up layups or get steals and we didn’t get steals. They never stopped believing and trusting each other.”
Nasir Stokes had another strong game for the Bulldogs’ leading the way with 22 points, 14 coming in the second half.
Jalen Bailey finished with 12, while Bryson Pleasant added 10. The Pride focused much of their defensive attention on slowing down Jones and held him to just six points on two 3-pointers.
J.R. Paylor chipped in five and Karson McKenzie came off the bench and added two.
RCS got off to a strong start and led 17-13 at the end of the first quarter.
The Bulldogs were up as many as six before the Pride got their open floor game cranking.
Henderson Collegiate exploded on a 15-1 run during a stretch of about two minutes with Kalib Mathews, Kameron Brooks and JaQuaveon Venable each hitting wide open transition threes.
RCS withstood the charge and only trailed 34-31 at the half and took the lead after back-to-back buckets to start the third quarter.
The Pride answered by outscoring the Bulldogs 13-4 during a six-minute stretch of the third quarter. RCS had a drought of more than four minutes without a basket.
Venable led a balanced Pride attack with 19 points, eight coming in the fourth quarter.
Brooks chipped in 11, while Davon Allen and Javonte Waverly finished with 10 points each.
The Pride took full advantage of its size advantage did much of its damage on the offensive glass.
“Those were the kinds of teams that have hurt us all year and we tried to schedule so that we understood how to play against teams with that kind of athleticism,” Bettendorf said. “They’re a heck of a team. They rebound well, they play hard. In my opinion, they’re certainly one of the top four 1A teams in the state. That’s where they’re headed and we hope to be there someday. To be the best, you know you have to beat the best.”