Knightdale and Clayton locked horns Tuesday night in a game typical of their conference rivalry: back and forth, hard-fought and down to the wire.
Knightdale made the plays at the end to win it, 44-42, but it was in doubt until the final seconds.
The score was tied at 40-40 after Clayton’s Kevin Jones hit a jumper with 1:27 remaining.
Needing a bucket to regain the lead, Knightdale got the ball into the hands of Akeem Tate, a junior guard who was the spark for the Knights all night. He drove the baseline and banked in a 10-footer to make it 42-40 with 36.8 seconds left.
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Clayton missed a long jumper on its possession and the Knights grabbed the rebound. Andrew Tuazama was fouled at the other end and went to the line for Knightdale. Tauzama sank both free throws with 8 seconds left for a 44-40 lead.
But there was still drama left in this one.
Clayton’s Tre Armstead drove the length of the court and was fouled with 2.9 seconds left. He made both free throws to cut the margin to the final score.
Clayton fouled quickly on the inbound play that followed, sending Antonio Watson to the line with 2.5 seconds remaining. Watson missed both free throws, but the ball went out of bounds to Knightdale with 1 second on the clock.
The first inbound attempt hit the rim without a player touching and was whistled dead. Knightdale got another attempt and got the ball in successfully to run out the final second.
“I was proud of the guys for staying in there,” said Knightdale coach Anthony Byrd. “We got a lead in the first quarter but with the tradition of Clayton basketball, I knew they were going to come back and make a run at us.
“At halftime, I talked to the guys and told them to just keep playing basketball because this is a tough place to play. I was proud of the way they stayed right in the game and hit some big shots at the end.”
Tate led Knightdale (8-1, 2-0 Greater Neuse River 4A Conference) with 18 points and Tuazama had 15.
Knightdale trailed 27-24 early in the third quarter, but went on a 13-1 run to lead 37-28 at the start of the fourth.
Clayton answered with an 8-0 run to start the final quarter – all eight points coming from Armstead, who finished with 14 to lead the Comets. Xavier Williams had 11.
“It’s a game of runs,” Byrd said. “Both teams played hard tonight. … We just had a very good Knightdale-Clayton game here tonight. I was proud of the way Akeem Tate came out, how he played strong tonight and really put us on his back and carried this team.”
Clayton (4-5, 0-2) dropped its fourth straight game but coach Denny Medlin applauded the effort of his squad, particularly on the defensive end.
“Knightdale’s got a lot of weapons and we held them to 44 points,” Medlin said. “We need to become more efficient on offense, but Knightdale is very good defensively too. I thought our freshman point guard (Macaleb Robertson) played tremendous, getting us set up and taking care of the ball.
“We made some mistakes down the stretch, took some shots that we probably shouldn’t have taken. But overall for four quarters, our kids played really hard. We’ve just got to execute a little better at the end of the game and we’ll start winning these games.”