WENDELL — With just a one-point lead with less than a minute left in the game, Alexus Hicks hit four free throws on two straight possessions to clinch a 50-45 win for Southeast Raleigh on Friday.
The Bulldogs (13-0 overall, 4-0 Greater Neuse River Conference) didn’t play pretty and didn’t shoot lights out against East Wake (7-5, 3-1), but thanks to a sharp-shooting sophomore and four late free throws with the game on the line, they remained undefeated.
“I’m happy with the fight and determination my team showed,” Southeast coach Nicole Meyers said. “There were periods of time where they could have folded or laid down and died, but they showed they are a resilient group.
“There were a lot of things we did wrong, but we did enough at the right times to pull out a win, and that’s what’s important when it’s all said and done.”
While Hicks’ free throws may have guaranteed the victory for the Bulldogs, it was Amber Richardson who paced them throughout the contest.
Richardson’s 19 points – nine in the first half and 10 in the second – led all scorers. The sophomore showed her versatility by slashing to the basket and pulled up for multiple jumpers throughout the game.
Though Richardson’s performance is not the norm for her, Meyers said she has been waiting for this game from her sophomore player.
“Amber and Alexus Hicks were outstanding for us tonight,” Meyers said. “But it’s been a long time coming for Amber. Alexus sealed it for us, but I was so happy to see Amber get her shots to fall tonight. We all know she can have those games every night, but I think she was confident in her game.”
Shakerrya Morrison led the East Wake attack with 13 points, but just two of those points came in the second half.
“I though Shakerrya gave it her all, but they were able to shut her down in the second half,” East Wake coach Toni Vick said.
East Wake forced four turnovers through the first four minutes of play and led 7-4, before Southeast Raleigh took the first timeout of the game at the 3:49 mark. Following the timeout, the Bulldogs began to pressure the Warriors more defensively and took a 12-8 lead heading into the second quarter.
Southeast maintained momentum in the second quarter, going on an 8-1 run to open the quarter before the Warriors were forced to call a timeout, but the Bulldogs wouldn’t stop there. After being down by three early, Southeast fought its way to a 25-9 lead with 3:27 remaining in the half thanks to a 23-2 run.
East Wake came storming back following a timeout, going on a 13-0 run of its own, but still trailed at the half 25-22.
“I told them to keep up the defense every time they came to the sideline,” Vick said. “They just attacked the basket more when they got turnovers. When we do that, we have a chance in any game.”
The Bulldogs pulled away by seven points early in the third quarter and seemed to have control, but the Warriors once again went a late-quarter run thanks to tough play inside by Kianna Wynn to take a 35-32 lead heading into the final quarter.
Southeast quickly regained the lead, holding a 40-37 advantage at the 5:15 mark. But following another timeout by East Wake, the Warriors would narrow the margin to just two with 2:26 remaining.
That score would stand until 40.1 seconds remained, when a technical foul was called on Southeast’s Tiffany McCarter after a scuffle over a rebound that sent Tianna Knuckles to the line. After Knuckles made one of two from the stripe, the Warriors trailed by just one point.
Hicks put a dagger in the hearts of East Wake when she made both free throws to push the Bulldogs’ lead to three. A mishandled dribble led to a turnover by Ciera Williams on the ensuing possession, sealing the win for Southeast after two more free throws from Hicks.
With the win, Southeast maintained the top spot in the GNRC, while East Wake fell to third with the loss. Meyers put the win into perspective with both teams bidding for a spot into the playoffs.
“Every win in the conference is important, but getting a win over a top team in the conference is huge,” Meyers said. “But our goal is to win a conference championship, and we’re only halfway there.”