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Bertie boys beat Rose

WINDSOR – Outdoors the calendar reads December – but it feels like February.

Monday night at Bertie High School you could have said the same about the indoors.

The home team Falcons’ 69-67 boys basketball win over 4-A J.H. Rose of Greenville seemed more like a playoff game than an early-season thriller.

Senior guard Norman Cherry III hit for a career-high 37 points that included not only the Falcons’ final seven of the night, but also the free throw that assured the victory.

“It felt like a playoff game,” said smiling Bertie coach Lester Lyons, “good atmosphere, good home crowd, and two doggone good basketball teams,.

“They came in here tonight and they were the aggressor,” he added, “and when you go down nine at halftime I told the kids to just find something inside themselves that was going to make them play hard.

“Cherry just had a heckuva shooting night, and we just rode him all the way in the second half,” Lyons continued. “He said he could do it and I just gave him the ball, his teammates trusted him and he made tough shots.”

Shaking his head and grinning, the coach repeated himself, “He made some really tough shots.”

Things didn’t start that well for Cherry, or the Falcons’ offense for that matter as the team missed its first six shots from the floor.

Rose took a 6-0 lead and Bertie only broke the ice with a pair of WyKevin Bazemore free throws. By the time Marquee Outlaw scored his team’s first field goal the quarter was half over with Bertie trailing, 8-4.

The Falcons got it to 8-6 before Rose was able to build and hold a small cushion. A Bertie layup at the buzzer was waved off, much to the visible chagrin of Lyons, and the Rampants led by three, 16-13,after one quarter.

Early in the second quarter, Cherry began to find his stroke and his three-pointer pulled Bertie within a pair, 20-18, at the six minute mark.

The game was physical in the paint as well as on the wings, as Bertie fouled on a Rose three-point attempt and the resultant foul shots had the Falcons in the hole, 23-18.  Twice more Bertie was able to trim it to two, the last before the half at 25-23 with under two minutes to play.

But then Rose went on their best run of the game, outscoring the Falcons, 9-2, heading into the half thanks to Bertie turnovers and missed shots and highlighted by 6′-9″ Rose center Tyrece Little’s layup in the paint, followed by a thunder-dunk that silenced the raucous home crowd.

In less than 90 seconds Bertie went from trailing by two to down nine at the break, 34-25.

Maybe it was Lyons’ pep talk, but Bertie opened the third quarter more aggressively with a 9-3 run, five of those points scored by Cherry to get within three, 37-34.

The Falcons continued to chip away and pulled within one, 44-43, with 3:50 left in the quarter.

Bertie took its first lead two possessions later when Cherry drained a rainbow three-pointer and were ahead, 46-44. Malcolm Cherry made a layup off a Rose miss to give the home team a 48-44 lead and send the crowd into a frenzy.

But Rose’s Elon Edwards took over, penetrating the lane, then pulling up for two more jump shots and Rose regained the lead. Bertie hung tough and were only down a pair, 57-55, entering the fourth.

It was back-and-forth in the fourth with four lead changes and two ties down to the final minute and a half. Rose tried to score inside, but Bertie denied them and when fouled, Rose missed 7-of-9 foul shots.

Bertie was clinging to a two point, 66-64, lead when Ryan Whichard hit a layup in the paint for the final tie of the night, 66-all.

At the one-minute mark Cherry hit a floater that was nothing but net for a two-point, 68-66, Bertie lead. Rose missed, but Bertie turned the ball over and after timeouts by both teams the Rampants set up a play.

The visitors then went inside to Little with 21 seconds left, but he was fouled by Trevante Wiggins and made just one free throw allowing Rose to trail by one.

Cherry bought the ball up for Bertie with the clock ticking away.  He beat his first defender and went up for an off-balance layup only to be fouled with eight second left.

Cherry missed the first of two, but after a Rose timeout to ice him, made the second free throw that turned out to be the game winner.  Rose’s desperation shot at the end hit the rim and bounced away for the Falcons’ win.

“Our kids just didn’t finish,” said a disappointed Rose coach and Bertie grad James Rankins. “We played hard, but we couldn’t make free throws and we couldn’t finish layups when we needed to. Bertie played well, but we just didn’t defend at the end.”

“I hope we learned,” said Lyons, “that if we take our time, play tough defense, we can overcome some obstacles and that will help us later in the year.”

Bertie’s joy over the win was short-lived as the Falcons lost a Northeastern Coastal Conference game the next night in Elizabeth City to Pasquotank, 55-50, to make their record, 4-2, and 1-1 in the league.