SMITHFIELD — East Wake has been a fixture toward the top of the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference girls’ basketball standings for several years now, while Smithfield-Selma is new to winning.
And when the two teams played in a battle for second place in the conference Friday night, the team with the stronger tradition easily prevailed.
Tianna Knuckles led the way with 15 points and the Warriors dominated the final three quarters, rolling to a 59-35 victory over the host Spartans.
East Wake improved to 9-5, 5-1 in GNRC action, while SSS fell to 10-4 and 3-2.
Sophomore guard Ciera Williams scored 13 points for the the Warriors.
“I liked how some of our bench players stepped up and played hard tonight,” East Wake coach Toni Vick said. “I thought Smithfield-Selma’s transitional offense was much improved over last year.
“We did a good job with our defensive pressure. We didn’t have many breakdowns and we executed our offense very well.”
Sabrina Shepherd scored 10 points but was the only Spartan in double figures.
“We had too many turnovers and too many missed layups, and we can’t be competitive doing that,” SSS coach William Saunders said. “We had a lot of fouls, but there’s no excuse. We’ve got to keep plugging.
“East Wake is well-conditioned and has a deep bench. They never lose their rhythm. Maybe we’ll get there one of these days.”
Knuckles’ layup with 7:05 left in the first quarter gave the Warriors a 4-3 lead and they never trailed again.
“I had an all-right game,” said Knuckles, who has signed to play at UNC Asheville next season. “But as a team I think we executed the ball real well. We ran the floor well. We had a few downfalls with turnovers, but other than that I thought we had a real good game.
“We have a lot of scorers and we know how to take it to the basket. And we pump each other up and work together well.”
The layup began a 12-0 run, but the Spartans responded with nine straight points of their own, seven of them from Brianna Chappell who picked up her third foul late in the period and ended up with eight points.
East kept up the pressure with an 11-0 second-quarter run that led to a 32-19 halftime lead. An 8-0 run early in the third quarter stretched the advantage to 42-21 and salted the game away.
“During those stretches we were working hard on defense and anticipating their passes,” the Warriors’ Williams said. “So when the passes got tipped we knew to go ahead and kick it out.
“When we got deflections, everybody was ready to run the floor. That’s how we play.”
The Warriors’ biggest lead was 59-31 on a Kianna Wynn layup with 1:56 to play.
“We didn’t give the effort in the second half that we did in the first,” Shepherd said. “We were only down 13, but then they came out stronger than last year.
“They’re the best team we’ve played so far. Tianna Knuckles is a really good all-around player.”