Crowd-pleasing dunks have the capacity to boost momentum in a basketball rivalry contest – but usually not for the opposing team.
After receiving a technical foul for dunking during warmups, host Knightdale saw East Wake convert two free throws to begin Friday’s Greater Neuse River Conference boys showdown. The fired-up Warriors would go on to register the game’s first seven points, and that would be a hole the Knights wouldn’t recover from until late in the second period.
Knightdale didn’t lead for good until the 1:57 mark of the third frame, and the Knights had to hold off a late Warriors threat to secure a tough 66-60 decision that had plenty of implications in the tight GNRC standings.
With the win, the Knights (12-4 overall, 4-2 GNRC) remained in third place outright in the league behind Garner and Clayton.
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“We needed this game to stay as one of the top three teams in the conference,” said Knightdale coach Anthony Byrd. “We knew it was going to be a hard game – it always is against East Wake.”
Knightdale did East Wake a favor with its pre-game technical foul, and the Warriors took advantage with their early surge. East Wake (7-7, 2-4) was ahead by as many as 11 points before Knightdale moved ahead for the first time on Aaron Taylor’s stickback at the 2:53 mark of the second quarter.
“We are an inexperienced team, so it really helped that we were able to get that quick lead,” said East Wake coach Gerald Melton. “This a tough environment to come play in. Moving ahead gave us some confidence. For a young team, we handled the situation very well.”
Knightdale moved ahead for good with an 11-0 spurt to close the third period. East Wake recovered to within one point on four occasions in the final quarter before the Knights finished off the contest with five unanswered points, three from the free-throw line.
“We gave East Wake some momentum out of the gate,’’ Byrd said. “I wanted to see how we would respond. When you fall behind, there is a tendency to try to hurry everything up. I told the guys that, if we just ran our offense and made some plays on defense, we would get some shots that we could make.”
Knightdale encountered a four-point deficit at the midpoint of the third period before delivering a transition-induced uprising that featured a pair of fast-break baskets from Carnell Watkins, along with a trey from Dondre Griffin. By the time the run was over, the Knights were ahead 51-44 going into the closing eight minutes. Though East Wake made things interesting down the stretch, Knightdale didn’t trail again.
Three to know
Drew Carroll, East Wake: Carroll paced the Warriors in points (20) and rebounds (six) to go with three steals and two assists. His layup with 34 seconds remaining brought East Wake to within 61-60.
Jordan Shannon, Knightdale: Shannon sent down three dunks to thrill the home audience, including a second-quarter alley oop that seemed to defy gravity. But his most important basket was a layup at the 19-second mark that increased the Knights’ cushion to 64-60. He finished with 13 points and three rebounds.
Dondre Griffin, Knightdale: Griffin led Knightdale with 14 points and seven assists and came through with four tallies in the final three minutes, including two free throws with five ticks left to seal the victory.
By the numbers
4: Balance was a key for Knightdale, which boasted a quartet of double-figure scorers – Griffin, Shannon, Andrew Tuazama (10) and Aaron Taylor (10).
58.3: East Wake’s torrid shooting percentage helped the Warriors move ahead early. Knightdale, however, limited the Warriors to a 39.1 field-goal percentage in the second half.
5: The number of starters lost from last year’s East Wake club. Because of the heavy losses, a rebuilding season was possible for the Warriors, but Melton’s club has remained competitive.
“I can’t ask for much more from these guys,” Melton said. “I’m disappointed that we didn’t win, but I can’t look back at anything that we could have done differently. We’ve lost to some very good teams this year, including tonight.”
15-8: Knightdale outscored East Wake by this margin in what proved to be a decisive third quarter of action.
18: Byrd cited his club’s bench play as a key to Friday’s victory, and the Knights received 18 points from their substitutes, in addition to some strong defense work from Marcus Manley.