The beauty of conference basketball tournaments is that anything can happen. Teams that stumble through the regular season can rise up and win a tournament title, knocking off top seeds along the way.
Sometimes, though, the top seeds live up to their billing.
That’s what happened in the Greater Neuse River 4A conference tournaments Thursday night at Campbell University’s Gore Arena, as Southeast Raleigh and Garner captured the girls’ and boys’ titles, respectively, as the No. 1 seeds.
Southeast Raleigh built a 21-point lead before escaping with a 49-43 win over Knightdale in the opening contest before Garner roared past the Knightdale boys, 79-50, in the nightcap.
The Bulldogs (27-0), the top-rated girls team in The News and Observer Top 25 rankings, came into the contest already owning a pair of wins over the Knights (20-6), and the game began with the sort of stalemate one would expect from teams that know each other so well.
The Bulldogs led 10-8 after the first quarter and turned up the defensive pressure in the second period. Eleven first-half turnovers bogged down the Knights on offense, and Southeast Raleigh took advantage, building a 23-14 lead at intermission.
Things went from bad to worse for the Knights in the third quarter and two free throws from Jada McMillian gave Southeast Raleigh a 42-21 lead early in the fourth.
That’s when the Melody Pritchard show began. The senior guard scored 15 points in the final quarter, sparking the Knights on a 17-1 run that saw them cut the deficit to five in the final minute.
The Bulldogs did enough from the foul line to put the game away, but it wasn’t a performance that made their coach, Nicole Meyers, very happy.
“We lost our composure in the fourth quarter, which was unlike anything we’ve done all year” she said. “We’ve got to know that everything we’ve done so far means absolutely nothing heading into (the playoffs) next week. … We’re going to talk about it a lot in practice. We’re going to fix the things that need to be fixed. I’m not too much worried about that, because I can get my point across.”
Knightdale coach Trent Bunn, as one might imagine, had a different take.
“Southeast has been a staple in this conference for years and years and years,” he said. “We just try to work hard to rise up to the bar that they set. It took us three quarters to bring it, but I think once we got comfortable with our surroundings, and comfortable being out on the floor with their pressure, we brought it in the fourth quarter.”
McMillian had 18 to lead the Bulldogs while Danica Lucas added nine. Pritchard paced all scorers with 22.
In the nightcap, Garner (25-2) had an uneven start to its night, following a 26-point first-quarter with a six-point effort in the second.
That left Knightdale down, 32-27, at the half and very much in position to spring an upset.
A 15-2 run for the Trojans coming out of the locker room changed all of that, and Alex Reed’s 13-point outburst in the third quarter put the Knights (14-11) in a 59-39 hole after three quarters.
“Last time we played Knightdale, they’ve got a very hefty team — very athletic,” Garner coach Eddie Gray said. “They got a lot of putbacks on us and we were fortunate to win the game at their place. So, that was a point of emphasis, to block out. ... We hit some timely shots to stay in there in the first half, then we got some easy buckets in the second half. That’s what this team has done all year, so I’m real proud of them.”
Reed paced the Trojans with 23 points while Kenyon Burt and Trayvon Ferrell poured in 20 and 13, respectively.
Garner has won 60 straight against GNRC opponents.
Xavier Fennell had 12 points to lead Knightdale.