by Richard Creaser
NEWPORT — It was a bittersweet homecoming for Kendrick Gray, who returned to the North Country gymnasium for the first time this season on Friday night. Gray, a former North Country Falcon freshman, now plays for the Rice Green Knights (12-3) as a potent sophomore forward.
“Coming in as an opponent was pretty nerve-wracking,” Gray said after Rice’s 74-39 win. “I just wanted to do my best and everything kind of came out. I wasn’t expecting to have as good a game as I did.”
Gray exhibited the kind of skills that made him a fearsome opponent for any team. His 17-point performance, tops among both teams, including shooting 4 for 9 from the free throw line, a three-point basket, and five other baskets including a crowd-inciting dunk in the first quarter. The fact that his heroics inspired cheers from both halves of the crowd was not lost on the amiable sophomore.
“I knew I couldn’t hide forever and I’d have to come back sometime,” Gray said smiling. “I love my Newport peeps. I love this place.”
Gray and his teammate James Wells were the Green Knight’s towers of power. Standing well over six feet tall, their superior height and reach foiled blocking attempts against them as well as scoring attempts on them.
“We’re not the biggest team or the strongest team out there,” Falcon Connor Hogan said after the game. “Anytime we go up against a team that can put four tall guys out there, it’s going to affect our game. But no matter who we play, we need to work our game, not theirs.”
The Falcons trailed 34-18 at the half. A dismal third quarter where the Green Knights outscored North Country 21 to 6 widened the gap. Heading into the final eight minutes of play, the Falcons had to step up their game to an entirely new level — and they did just that.
Hogan put up an impressive display of his own on the night, finishing with 16 points, only a single point behind Gray among all scorers. Moreover, Hogan recorded 10 of his points in the final quarter alone. That final quarter push displayed the Falcons’ never-say-die attitude, he said.
“We knew we had to play hard in the first half just to keep up,” Hogan said. “We also knew that we’d have to play even harder and finish strong. Rice is a good team and you can’t let up.”
Not coincidentally, the fourth quarter was the Falcons’ best of the game as they poured in 15 points to the Green Knight’s 16. The fourth also marked Rice’s lowest scoring quarter of the game.
“It was a good match-up between Collin Myrick and me,” Gray said of the Falcon defender assigned to him. “It was kind of tricky because he knew my style and I knew his style. I had to keep trying new things just to get around him.”
Knowing their limitations in both height and speed, the Falcons need to concentrate on what they can control to win games, Hogan said. Effective communication, dead-on passing, and controlling the pace of the game are essential for North Country’s success.
“When we slowed things down, made our passes and communicated, we played well,” Hogan said. “We gave up a lot of size on the inside so we have to work smarter to get those opportunities. Working well together, that’s what’s going to help us most.”
The Falcons host their next home game on Thursday, February 13, as the take on the Spaulding Crimson Tide. The varsity game has a scheduled 6:30 p.m. start. The Falcons will look to even up the season series after dropping the first contest 64-51 back on January 9.
contact Richard Creaser at firstname.lastname@example.org
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