Wilmington Laney’s girls brought a sour sense of déjà vu into the East Wake gym as the Bucs edged the Warriors 50-47 in the first round of the 4A state playoffs Monday.
It marked the third straight year East Wake allowed an upset on its home court in the opening playoff round.
As the No. 8 seed last season, the Warriors were victimized in a 61-58 loss to league rival and No. 9 seed Harnett Central. And in 2012, No. 5 East Wake was upset by No. 12 Cary, 51-46.
No. 10 East Wake (20-4) was again the favorite Monday despite No. 23 Laney entering the contest with a similar record of 21-5.
“It was a tough pull, because (Laney) won 20 games just like we won 20 games, but we just didn’t show up until the second half and that was it,” East Wake coach Toni Vick said. “We just didn’t come to play two halves of basketball.
“We stepped up to play the second half, and in the fourth quarter it was too late. It was mental for us, and I hate it’s a repeat (of recent playoff games). It was a good season.”
East Wake inched its way back into contention after trailing 27-19 at the half. The greatest surge came in the closing minutes.
Freshman Tamira Knuckles hit a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 46-42 with 2:58 left to play. A takeaway by Kianna Wynn and dish to fellow junior Briana Holder for an open lay-in had East Wake within 46-44 at the 2:15 mark. Holder stole the ensuing in-bound pass, drew a foul and hit one of her charity shots to make it a 1-point game.
“I feel like we should have showed up from the beginning with intensity and heart,” said an emotional Holder. “We really showed it in the fourth quarter. If we would have just started out strong, we probably would have had this, but it just happened the way it happened.”
Wynn gave East Wake its only lead of the game, 47-46, on its final basket of the game after coming up with another steal and scoring with 1:17 on the clock. Laney’s Tiana Edwards, who led all scorers with 22 points, was quick to take it away.
Edwards completed a conventional 3-point play to put the Bucs back on top, 49-47, with 44 seconds left. Her teammate Charlene Thompson added the final point of the game from the line at the 15 second mark.
East Wake junior Ciera Williams hurled a final attempt to tie the game at the buzzer and narrowly missed the target.
Most of the damage was done in the first period. A free throw by Wynn was East Wake’s lone point of the first three minutes as Laney built a 9-1 lead.
The Warriors made just one of their five foul-drawing shots in the first half, and hit merely half of the resulting 10 free throw attempts.
On the other end, Laney’s Edwards dominated the first half with 14 points – a point more than East Wake scoring leaders Shayla Tanner and Wynn combined for prior to halftime. Tanner finished with 11 points and Wynn with 10.
Holder considered the loss a lesson to remember for those returning for East Wake next season.
“We’ve got to start out with intensity from the beginning of the season and every game play like it’s our last game,” she said. “That’s the main key, is just play with heart, because we’ve got everything else.”