DURHAM — Ronnie Russell said his Northern Durham basketball team had learned plenty from its only loss of the season.
And on Tuesday night at Poe Gym, the Knights put that to good use.
Ricky Council led the way with 25 points while Kentrell Barkley added 20 with 12 rebounds, leading Northern to a 73-67 win against Garner in a non-conference battle of 4A heavyweights.
The win improved the Knights to 5-1 on the season. Garner, also 5-1, had beaten the Knights 80-74 back on Nov. 20 in the season opener for both teams on the Trojans’ court.
“This was big,” said Russell, the Knights’ fourth-year coach. “We’re better than what we were when we were over there, and I think we’ve made a lot of strides up to this point.
“We defended better than we did last time, and we executed better on offense. We hadn’t used the press the last time we played them, and I think our press helped us in the fourth quarter this time.”
Garner got 19 points from Demarcus Sanford, 14 from Sammy Saunders and 13 from Julius Barnes.
“We turned the ball over too many times,” Garner coach Eddie Gray said. “We missed easy shots inside – we don’t have a lot of height, so we’ve got to make those count. We gave them too many second chances and too many easy baskets.
“(Northern) played real hard. They gave us a few matchup problems and we tried to go to a quicker lineup, but we just weren’t ready to play tonight. We didn’t do a good job preparing for the game.”
The Knights looked ready to turn the rematch into a blowout, taking the lead to 20-8 on a Barkley layup before Gray took a timeout.
“This feels really good,” the sophomore Barkley said of the win. “We got payback this time. We’ve been working on our defense a lot, and tonight I think we played it better and did a better job moving on the ball. We’re playing well. We’ll be good as long as we work together and share the ball.”
The timeout turned out to be well-placed, as the Trojans went on a long run of their own to hold a 32-26 advantage on a Sanford layup before Russell took a timeout with 3:32 left in the half.
“We came out with a lot of intensity the first time we played them, because we wanted to make a statement,” Sanford said. “Tonight was a good game, but maybe we overlooked them. I think this loss should teach us we can’t take things for granted. We need to use this as motivation to do better in the future.”
Northern led 56-51 after three quarters. The Trojans tied the score at 60 and 61 before a Barkley layup with 2:31 to play gave the Knights the lead for keeps.
“We played well tonight, but I think we can do better,” Council said. “Our defense was a lot better tonight. We knew what they were doing and we executed. We were able to stop their inside game.
“This is a very big win. We needed it. We had to get them back.”