The coronation of East Chapel Hill as sole PAC-6 regular-season champions will have to wait as Northern Durham handed the Wildcats their first conference loss on the season, 49-46.
It was a game of runs throughout, as neither team could quite snatch the momentum and reign it in. Northern (14-6, 8-3 PAC-6) opened up with a 8-0 lead, holding East Chapel Hill (17-5, 9-1) to no field goals in the first six minutes of the game, but turnovers and poor shooting prevented them from extending their advantage further. In the end, they settled for a 10-6 lead after eight minutes.
Building off a late field goal in the first, East Chapel Hill opened up the second quarter on a quick 11-2 run. The Wildcats were led by guard Carter Collins, who finished the half with six of his 14 points in the game. They also exploited their size advantage to the tune of six offensive rebounds, and led 21-18 at the half.
It looked like things were starting to get away from Northern at the start of the third as East Chapel Hill’s Justin Tucker canned two quick 3s and Northern started the half 0 of 4 from beyond the arc. The Wildcats pushed their lead to 13 in the middle of the third quarter and seemed well in control.
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That’s when Eric Stokes, who finished with 14 points, and struggled shooting the ball all night, knocked down a big 3, which led to a 12-0 run by the Knights to make it a one-point game 41-40 with one quarter to play.
“We know that the game is never over until the clock hits zero,” said Stokes. “We just have to execute our offense.”
The two teams traded baskets to open the final quarter, but Jaylin Riley’s offensive rebound and subsequent tip in off the Northern miss swung the momentum back to the Knights for good.
East Chapel Hill hung tough, and had a chance to tie it with a 3 in final 13 seconds, but a bad pass by Tucker led to an easy run out for Northern as they managed to hold on.
“That’s the best our defense has looked all season,” said Northern head coach Ronnie Russell. “We emphasized taking away the inside. Take charges, get in peoples way, and wall up on people.”
Typically undersized, the Northern defense made sure that East Chapel Hill couldn’t go into the paint as often as they would have liked with pressure up top. In the game, Northern forced 19 turnovers and held East Chapel Hill without a single offensive rebound in the second half.
“Their pressure took us away from our advantage,” said East Chapel Hill head coach Ray Hartsfield. “We turned into a perimeter team instead of banging the ball down low.”
In the girls game, East Chapel Hill used a 9-1 run to open the third quarter to comfortably defeat Northern 41-26.
Northern (1-19, 0-11) had their chances to pick up their first conference victory on the season, but missed layups and turnovers ultimately cost them.
T.J. Johnson led all scorers with 14 points for East Chapel Hill (6-11, 3-7) to go along with 8 rebounds and 3 assists. Eliniya Black had 9 points and 9 rebounds for Northern.