The sounds of celebration out of the East Wake girls’ locker room told the story.
The Warriors knocked off Southeast Raleigh for the first time in five seasons, beating the Bulldogs 52-46 in a matchup of two teams in the News & Observer’s Top 15.
“Yes, it’s about time,” said East Wake senior Angel Rizor, who scored 15 points but fouled out late in the game. “It feels really good. We always knew that we had the skill and the talent to beat them. (But) we never had enough heart. I feel like now we have a lot more heart, and we just put it out there.”
The No. 4 Warriors (13-1, 5-0 Greater Neuse River Conference) rejoiced with shouts of joy in the locker room after the win, and they were all smiles before going to watch the boys' game, which was won by Southeast Raleigh 61-57.
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“It means a lot,” East Wake coach Toni Dupree said. “It means a lot for our girls mentally, because this was a hump we’ve never been able to get over for a while. But it does mean a lot to see that we’ve grown as a team. It’s just exciting.”
Dupree decided to play a 2-3 zone against the slashing Bulldogs (11-2, 4-1), and the strategy worked, as No. 3 Southeast struggled to get open shots.
“Believe it or not, that’s the first time we’ve played zone the whole year,” Dupree said. “I know Southeast likes to drive a lot. They do have shooters, but if they’re going to beat us, I’d rather them beat us on the outside.”
Bulldogs coach Nicole Meyers, however, said her team was ready for the zone.
“We anticipated it,” Meyers said. “We looked back at film from last year, and they played a lot of zone, so that wasn’t anything really new for us. It was just the little things that kinda got us. Being 10 for 19 from the free throw line, that’s tough.”
Missing all 10 3-point shots didn’t help, either, as Southeast made 18 of 46 shots from the floor.
Rizor scored nine of her 15 points in the third quarter as East Wake led by nine, 43-34, heading into the final quarter. Foul trouble kept Rizor on the bench more often than usual, but guards Dajha Williams (14 points) and Tamira Knuckles (11) filled in admirably on the offensive end.
“(Williams) is usually shy about scoring, but really stepped it up tonight when we needed her the most,” Dupree said of her sophomore point guard. “I felt like her and Tamira really stepped it up. They just brought it tonight, they played with intensity, and they wanted it.”
The Bulldogs know there’s work to do, which was Meyers’ message in the locker room.
“We’re going to reshuffle some things; we’re going to regroup and get ready for next week,” Meyers said. “We hate taking these lumps now, but we’d rather take these lumps now than in March. We’re going to learn something from this game.”
The Southeast boys went on a 10-1 run late in the fourth quarter to seemingly take control with a 52-45 lead, but East Wake rallied to tie it with 12 seconds left. The Bulldogs (9-4, 2-3 GNRC) then made four free throws in the final seconds to win it.
"To me, this is the biggest one because they gutted it out," Southeast coach John Brown said. "This generation of kids don't know anything about gutting out a game, sticking in there, playing to the end. That's going to be a big win for us down the road because they gutted it out."
John Baker IV banked in a 3-pointer for a 45-44 Bulldog lead that started the run, and three consecutive driving baskets put Southeast up by seven.
While the Bulldogs were making five of seven free throws, the Warriors (7-6, 2-3) mounted a furious comeback. Tyler Burton (16 points) made two 3s and hit two free throws, while Drew Carroll scored four points, including a follow of his own miss that tied the score 57-57 with 12 seconds left.
Carroll, though, then fouled Dominic Foy, and Foy drained both foul shots. Foy also drew a charge that got Southeast the ball back, and Malik Bullock made two more free throws with 4.5 seconds left to wrap it up.
"We knew at some point in time during the season it would come down to stepping up and knocking in some big free throws," Brown said. "The guys who knocked it in were seniors, so that's the expectation. They were supposed to do that."
East Wake coach Gerald Melton said his team didn't do what it was supposed to, like making only 13 of 32 free throws and making mistakes at crucial times.
"We made good decisions to get back in it, and then we make a silly foul or a poor decision trying to feed the post that wasn't there," Melton said. "We had been playing well, and a week ago we had played really smart."
Bullock was a difference-maker, scoring 17 of his game-high 20 points in the second half. He especially took over in the third, scoring 11 of the Bulldogs' 18 points.
"Challenged him this week that as a senior leader, he needed to take over ballgames because he has the capability of doing it," Brown said. "And he did it."