The size and strength of Knightdale’s big men became the essential key to the Knight’s 56-52 win over the Pinecrest Patriots in the first round of the NCHSAA 4A boys basketball tournament on Saturday afternoon.
“They were a handful on the boards, we knew that coming in,” said Pinecrest head coach Ben Snyder. “We tried to neutralize but eventually, they got what they wanted.”
Though Pinecrest (18-7) rallied to close a wide deficit late in the game against Knightdale (18-6), the No. 23-seeded Patriots were unable to bear the burden of handling the No. 10 Knights’ most productive post players in Daquan Lilly and Andrew Tuazama.
The senior and freshman shot a combined 10-13 and bullied their way to 25 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks in the paint. Pinecrest struggled to match up down low due to the lack of size in their roster, giving the Knightdale tandem a firm grip on the game’s tempo.
“They have two Division 1 athletes down there that you’re trying to rebound against and I thought it really showed in the third quarter,” Snyder said. “They got a bunch of easy buckets in that third quarter.”
Though the game was back and fourth in the opening half, scoring came easy in the third quarter for the Knightdale’s frontcourt. Lilly battled, and the Knights’ guards made sure to find him on the majority of their possessions. Lilly often used a one-dribble post move to go up for easy scores. The senior posted nine points in the third quarter to give his team an 8-point advantage entering the final period.
Brandon Harrell, Pinecrest’s leading scorer with 21, came up big in the fourth quarter by making it a 2-point game after hitting a crucial three pointer with 2 minutes left in regulation. Knightdale responded with a Tuazama layup on the other end.
After missing an important three on the next possession, Pinecrest’s Stephon Stephens recovered and kept his team’s hopes alive by quickly grabbing a steal and assist to put the game back within reach.
“They were small but they played with a lot of heart, and their coach is doing a very good job there,” said Knightdale head coach Anthony Byrd.
Pinecrest fought tooth and nail to stay with Knightdale in the matchup, but the Patriots’ efforts were overcome by the length of Lilly, who rose over two defenders for the lay in that sealed the win for Knightdale in the final seconds.
“My team depends on me a lot, so I’ve got to deliver,” Lilly said. “We came out a little flat in the beginning but toward the end when we needed it, we stepped up defensively and offensively to close out the game.”
Both teams played sluggishly in the first half, as the two schools combined for 15 turnovers. As Knightdale struggled to find offensive rhythm, Pinecrest went on the attack in the first quarter when Harrell got the hot hand, shooting a perfect 3-for-3 from downtown to put a high note on a seemingly quiet half for both teams.
Pinecrest and Knightdale scored six and five points, respectively in the second quarter.
“With the layoff, it hurt both teams,” said Byrd. “It was a struggle for us, we didn’t seem to get it going but we came out with the win and I’m happy with it.”
Lilly led Knightdale with 16 points, followed by nine points each from Tuazama and guard Dondre Griffin.
Harrell was 5-for-6 shooting for Pinecrest from behind the arc in Saturday’s matchup. Although Stephens was inconsistent from three-point range, the junior finished with 12. Patriots guard Jaylin Dickerson played a vital role in his team’s fourth quarter scoring drive and ended with 11 points in the game.
With the win, Knightdale advanced to the second round to face No. 7 Apex, which defeated New Bern 74-65 in the first round.