Sharp shooting and a rigid zone defense had first-year East Wake boys basketball coach Gerald Melton beaming after hosting Knightdale Friday night.
Three senior guards combined for 42 points, including eight 3-pointers, as Melton enjoyed a 70-57 East Wake victory in his first game leading the Warriors against the Knights.
“They played with unbelievable heart,” Melton said of guards Josh McLean, Josh Siler and Nick Cook. “They just won it. They came out and played really smart, but really hard.”
East Wake (10-4, 4-2 Greater Neuse River 4A) moved into a three-way tie with Knightdale (10-5, 4-2) and Rolesville for second place in the league with the win.
The deep ball helped the Warriors hold off a third-quarter surge by the Knights, and the zone allowed the home team to build a cushion down the final stretch.
“East Wake played some very inspired basketball and were just ready for the contest,” said Knightdale coach Anthony Byrd. “I don’t know if our guys were ready for what they were about to walk into.
“(The Warriors) forced us into a lot of mistakes in that ballgame, and they capitalized on our mistakes. They were very active in that zone defense and we weren’t as patient running our offense against that zone.”
After trailing 37-30 at the half, Knightdale got within 3 points by the 5-minute mark in the third quarter. Then, the shooting clinic commenced.
A McLean 3-pointer at 3:25 in the third made it 42-34 and another McLean 3-ball two possessions later upped the lead to 47-34 for the Warriors. Siler closed out the frame with another 3-pointer at the buzzer for an 11-point (54-43) lead, and hit yet another at the start of the fourth to put the breaks on a run by Knightdale.
Siler finished with 16 points including five 3s, and McLean had 14 with a trio of buckets from downtown.
Knightdale started pressing and trapping midway through the fourth in a final attempt to scratch back from the double-digit deficit. East Wake responded to the pressure, drawing fouls rather than being drawn into turnovers.
Cook, who finished with 12 points, went 6-for-8 from the line in the final frame.
Knightdale got just two points in the fourth from its leading scorers — juniors Dondre’ Griffin and Akeem Tate (13 points each on the night) — on a bucket by Griffin.
The Knights opened to a 9-3 lead midway through the first quarter after a steal and feed from Tate to Griffin for a layup, but the Warriors marched back to tie it 15-up with athletic efforts from Quincy Jackson and Mason Harrell.
Freshman Andrew Tuazama finished with 11 points for Knightdale and junior Andre’ Willis added 10.
Melton, while pleased, considered the win a mere stepping stone for a team still adjusting to his new system.
“You play a team like Knightdale with the crowd and the rivalry and you want to win it, but now we’ve got to turn around and play Garner,” Melton said. “This time of year, every game means a lot. But (Knightdale) is a great team and they are going to be tough as it goes, and we’re fortunate to get this one.”