Anthony Byrd had just one meaningful instruction for his Knightdale Knights as they entered the fourth quarter in a tie with East Wake on Thursday.
“Let’s see who the best team in the last eight minutes is,” Byrd recalled telling his players. “And they came out, they played hard and we got some good results.”
The Knights won 75-63 following their response to Byrd’s challenge – a five minute, 15-2 run that lifted their lead to 68-55. The victory over their arch-rival sealed a third-place finish in the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference.
Knightdale (17-5, 11-3 GNRC) finished one game behind Garner in the league standings. East Wake dropped to 14-9 overall and 7-7 in the conference, good for fifth place but leaving their playoff status up in the air.
Behind the game-winning surge were Marcell Johnson, Ronshad Allen-Shabazz, Daquan Lilly and Jazon Oden, whose efforts overwhelmed the Warriors at both ends of the floor.
Lilley’s tap-in 24 seconds into the period got the Knights started, but the Warriors answered with a pair of Josh McLean free throws to even matters again at 55-all.
At that point, Johnson took over. He hit a follow shot that gave the Knights the lead for keeps, then followed that with a rebound off a miss by the Warriors’ Nahjuwan Potts and a driving lay-up for a 60-55 edge.
Johnson continued his heroics with another tap-in after a Warriors timeout, then found Oden open underneath for an easy basket and a 64-55 cushion with 3:46 to play.
Allen-Shabazz, who led all scorers with 31 points, and Oden scored on the next two possessions to set Knightdale up 68-55. Allen-Shabazz ended his night with the next 5 points for the Knights, and Lilly wrapped matters up with a bucket off a Johnson assist.
“Our main objective was to make stops and score the ball,” Allen-Shabazz said. “And that’s what I did and we did. Marcell did a great job of rebounding the ball and scoring for us.”
Byrd also spoke highly of Johnson’s showing.
“He’s like our bread and butter,” Byrd said of Johnson. “He can guard, rebound or score at any position. He’s very vital to our basketball team. He’s an all-around athlete, he brings a lot to our team.”
Johnson finished with 16 points for the Knights while Lilly dropped in 15.
The loss was disheartening for the Warriors, who had rallied from a 45-32 second quarter deficit. Two free throws by Nick Cook, a basket and a free throw from Quincy Jackson and a 3-pointer by Josh Siler drew the home team within 47-40 at the half.
East Wake came out of the break with a new defensive look and seemed to take control of the contest in the third period, when it outscored Knightdale 13-6.
“(Knightdale) could not run on us anymore, because we stopped their runs by getting back on defense,” Warriors coach Darrin Stinson said. “If we had been doing that in the first half, we could have cut them off in their transition game.”
East Wake held a pair of 1-point leads late in the third quarter off charity tosses by Siler and Jackson. Jackson led the Warriors with 20 points while Josh McLean chipped in 12 and Potts 11.
“They came back, they kept fighting,” Byrd said of the Warriors. “They could have given up and quit early in the game because we were up by 12, 14 points. They fought back and got it even by the fourth quarter.”
Allen-Shabazz tallied 13 of his points in the second period, including three straight treys, to help push Knightdale’s advantage from 31-26 to 44-32.
Stinson attributed Knightdale’s two big runs to poor shooting, poor defense and poor work on the boards by the Warriors.
“We didn’t rebound well,” Stinson said. “When they did shoot and miss in the first half, we gave them a couple of baskets. It was like pass, catch and shoot.”
Knightdale tried to run away early – building a 19-11 first quarter lead – but the Warriors used a 10-0 run to close out the period, taking their first lead of the night on a 3-pointer by McLean at the buzzer.