East Chapel Hill senior guard Carter Collins knew it was a long time ago when the Wildcats beat Northern. He made sure their losing streak to the Knights didn’t reach double digits as East Chapel Hill took a 63-50 win on Tuesday night.
Collins scored a game-high 28 points as East Chapel Hill (12-4, 4-0 PAC-6) took over first place in the conference race. The Wildcats also bounced back from a pair of back-to-back losses during their holiday tournament action in the South Granville Holiday Invitational.
“It was a big win for us, especially to protect our home court,” Collins said. “We came in tied so this was a big win. I came into this game knowing we needed that win against Northern Durham because since I’ve been on varsity, we haven’t beaten them. It was a good one.”
Northern (9-4, 4-1) lost for the third time in four games and its second in a row.
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East Chapel Hill had lost nine in a row to Northern but a quick start by the Wildcats gave them a working margin they never relinquished.
“It’s been a long while since we’ve beaten them,” East Chapel Hill coach Ray Hartsfield said. “I knew it was going to be a war and we expected it. We knew they had three good players on the perimeter we had to control. I think we held them down pretty and did a pretty decent job of getting out on their shooters.”
They packed their 2-3 zone in the lane and dared Northern to shoot from outside. The Knights were more than willing to fire away but they didn’t make enough to force East Chapel Hill to change its defensive strategy.
Three of Northern’s four first-quarter baskets were from behind the arc.
After Ricky Council III hit a 3 that tied the game at 3-3, Northern managed to forge a tie only twice more in the game and never leading.
East Chapel Hill went on to build an 18-11 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Northern tightened up by the intermission, cutting East Chapel Hill’s lead to 32-28.
In third quarter, Northern scored the first two buckets to tie the game at 32-32 and then the teams traded baskets for another tie. But when Collins hit a 3 from the top of the key to give the Wildcats a 37-34 lead with 5:25 left in the third, it sparked a 10-0 that let East Chapel Hill grab the momentum.
The Wildcats went on to build a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter on a pair of free throws by senior center Clay Watkins with 1:22 left in the game. They matched it for the final margin after Justin Tucker, who finished with 11 points, hit a pair of free throws.
Eric Stokes led Northern with 18 points, while Council added 10.
Northern coach Ronnie Russell said his team is missing an element that helped break down East Chapel Hill’s zone like in past seasons – a big man in the middle or an athletic forward who can force it to collapse.
“We don’t have somebody who is a force in there,” Russell said. “The guys we have in there are small and I have a freshman who is still struggling and trying to find his game. At this point, we’ve got to grow up and play big. ... We’ve still got a ways to go and I think we can get there. We’ve got some pieces.”
In the girls’ game, East Chapel Hill finally broke into the win column in the PAC-6 with its 10-point win over Northern, which remained winless overall.
T.J. Johnson led East Chapel Hill (4-7, 1-3) with 15 points, including a pair of 3-pointers.
Northern (0-12, 0-5) was led by Malika Price with 10 points.
The Wildcats grabbed a 9-6 lead in the first period and extended it to 21-12 at the intermission. Northern was not able to fight back in the second half.