Strategy was unclear as the Knightdale boys basketball team burned three minutes off the clock on a single possession to start the fourth quarter against East Wake on Friday.
But it apparently worked. The Knights went on an 8-0 run over the first 5:36 of the final period that gave them enough cushion to outlast rival East Wake for a 62-58 victory.
Knightdale coach Anthony Byrd explained after the game the objective was not to run down the clock, although he did not mind that side effect. He said he was looking for different answers to East Wake’s zone defense, which had given the Knights troubles in their first encounter this season with the Warriors – one East Wake ran away with 70-57 in January.
“We wanted them to come out and play,” Byrd said of the East Wake defense. “We worked on it and found some gaps where you can do some things against it and I thought with our offense the certain plays we were running worked well. It kind of gave us a little room to rest a little bit, so I’ll welcome that.”
The win broke a tie giving Knightdale (17-6, 11-3) second place outright in the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference final standings and a home game in the first round of the state playoffs. East Wake finished the regular season 16-6 overall and in third place in the league at 10-4.
“It was important to us,” Byrd said. “We wanted to come out outright with the second-place finish and host a playoff game, and it’s so special with the Knightdale-East Wake rivalry to win games. We were able to split this season, so that was a big game for us.”
Before the game, East Wake coach Gerald Melton said he was excited, but just like he would be before any other game.
“You’ve got to look at that way,” Melton said. “These (East Wake) kids are excited about what they’re doing, they’ve already cliched a playoff spot, we took Garner into overtime, we’d already beaten a really good Knightdale team. So there’s no pressure on us. We just need to go enjoy the journey and play.”
Melton, who is in his first year at East Wake after a long run at Bunn, said missing out on the No. 2 spot is not the end of the world for the Warriors.
“When we were at Bunn, we’d go to the regionals from the third spot,” he said. “I’ve seen times where if we got first or second, we were in the tougher bracket.
“You’ve got to beat good teams if you get in. Obviously, you like the highest seed you can get. But, my first year coming in, I’m new and they’re learning me. We were just looking to get in (the state playoffs). We’ll take what we’ve got and make the best of it.”
Knightdale completed its task Friday with a focus on getting the ball down low, which led to trips to the free throw line.
A layup by Dondre Griffin (11 points) gave the Knights the 49-42 lead with 3:20 to play and his teammate Daquan Lilly, who finished with a game-high 18 points, followed with an easy basket down low for a 9-point advantage.
Knightdale guard Antonio Watson scored all six of his points from the line in the fourth quarter, his last keeping the Knights ahead 62-55 with 11 seconds left.
The final stretch was a sight different than the first half, which saw Knightdale make just one of 12 free throw attempts.
“We shot too many jump shots in the first half instead of going to the basket, so our strategy was to get to the basket,” Byrd said. “I thought we did a better dob of that in the fourth quarter, and in the fourth quarter we were able to knock down some free throws.”
Jordan Shannon added 12 points for the Knights.
East Wake got double-digit games from guards Josh McLean (16 points) and Josh Siler and Nick Cook (11 each). McLean and Siler each hit two 3-pointers.
“They’re defense was really good and we were trying to run our stuff and they made it hard on us,” Melton said. “We overcame that and took the lead a couple times, and I thought we made them work, but it seemed they always got those second shots.”