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Gryphons fall in East-West All-Star Games

July 20, 2012
By Charles Alston of Rocky Mount High School

GREENSBORO - Rocky Mount High School's representatives in Monday night's two N.C. Coaches Association East-West All-Star Basketball Games did the best they could. But it was enough to help bring victories home for the men's or women's East squads.
In Monday's opening game, the East had its moments early, but superior size up front ended up bringing the West an 82-65 victory. And before some 3,004 fans in the nightcap at the Greensboro Coliseum, the West withstood a furious flurry in the fourth quarter by the East to survive 107-97.
In the women's contest, Rocky Mount's Alexus Cooper and Tia Hudgins did the Gryphons proud proud. Cooper led the East squad with a game-high 16 points and she pulled off four steals.

Hudgins, however, did not score as she got into some early foul trouble and had to hit the bench early. She did pull down five rebounds, but she achieved a dream of playing in the East-West Games just like brother Terrell (football, 2005) and sister (Tanika, 2002) did.
For Cooper, it was an opportunity to do her school proud, but it was also a chance to work with her former head coach Terri Cash. Cash, the head girls basketball coach at Nash Central, served as an assistant for the East girls.

"I was so blessed and honored to be here," said Cooper, who missed a year of action with a knee injury. "I could not see any of this coming, especially after my injury. I can't thank Coach Cash and Coach (Pam) Gainey enough for what they've done for me the last few years. I am so grateful."

Cooper will continue her career at Eastern Kentucky. Hudgins was a late summer signee to Queens University.

When Rocky Mount's Terrill Hilliard was shooting in warm ups, the lefty forward felt his shot going. Shortly after tip-off the men's contest, Hilliard banked in a 3-pointer to open the game's scoring.

Hilliard, who started for the East and is headed to Wingate, would hit three more treys on his way to a 16-point night. The East was led by Chapel Hill's Denzel Ingram with 20.

But the East's undoing was hoisting 45 3-point attempts - making just 12. The West concentrated on driving to the basket and getting to the foul line - and the strategy worked. The West, led by game MVP Shane Lester (Mooresville), shot 35 free throws and made 23. The East only got to the line 15 times and converted 11.

The West had a 54-36 lead at the half and it stretched that to 65-43 in the opening minutes of the third. But the East had some life in it as it went on a 21-3 run to cut the West lead to 68-66 just before the end of the period (which were 10 minutes long, not eight as in high school ball).

But the West got some quick baskets to grab a seven-point advantage going into the fourth.

The East had one more rally in it. Hilliard helped get within two of the West (87-85) with 4:20 remaining, but it didn't get any defensive intensity the rest of the contest.

"We got lazy on defense after working so hard to get back into the game," said the 6-foot-6 Hilliard, who felt blessed with the way his prep career was coming to an end. "We turned the ball over and gave them easy baskets. All our energy was gone."

All three Gryphons were recognized by the NCCA during the team introductions Monday night as being members of its All-Academic Team. An overall GPA of 3.0 or better was the main requirement of being named to the squad.

The NCCA also brought back former MVPs of previous East-West Games. Honored that evening was 1982 Rocky Mount graduate George McClain was the men's MVP at the 1982 East-West All-Star Men's Basketball Game. McClain, who also led the Gryphons to the 1982 NCHSAA 4-A State Championship, played on the N.C. State University team that won the 1983 NCAA Championship.

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