With Greater Neuse River Conference scoring leader Angel Rizor on the bench, junior Tamira Knuckles stepped up her game to help propel East Wake to a 63-47 win over Fayetteville Seventy-First in the opening round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A girls basketball playoffs on Tuesday.
With the win, the 10th-seeded Warriors (23-4) advanced to face No. 7 seed J.H. Rose (18-5) in Greenville on Thursday. The Rampants automatically advanced to the second round when Rolesville was removed from the 4A bracket because officials discovered the Rams used an ineligible player during their last four games.
According to East Wake head coach Toni Dupree, the main focus going into the second round will be executing the offense and getting defensive stops.
Defense and rebounding were key in Tuesday’s win. After a slow start, the Warriors got on a roll and never looked back. They were able to break down the No. 23 seed Falcons with good passing and ball control which led to some easy baskets inside.
East Wake hopes to carry that momentum into Thursday’s matchup with Rose.
“I’m pretty confident we can do it as long as we work together as a team,” Knuckles said.
The Warriors pressed early to gain the advantage and never looked back. Seventy-First never held an advantage as the Warriors led by as many as 25 points in the third quarter. The Falcons were able to reign them back in a little, but East Wake never let them get in the game.
“We could have done better, but we never let up,” Knuckles said. “We played our game and we never got down.”
Knuckles led all scorers with 24 points on the night while Rizor, who was double-teamed by the Falcon defense, spent most of the first half on the bench after picking up two fouls in the first quarter.
“If she pushes, she can do this every game,” Dupree said of Knuckles. “Everyone came out ready to play. Everyone hustled and played hard after the first quarter.”
The Warriors had a balanced scoring effort behind Knuckles. Mikieja Covington had nine points while Rizor and Dahja Williams added eight each. Covington also picked up 9 rebounds while Rizor and Maiya McCoy pulled down six boards.
Chandni Taylor led the Falcons with 14 points. Tahja Na’il finished with 11 points while Gloria Smith and Quiana Boone-Fudge each chipped in eight.