The Neuse Christian Lions girls basketball team has dominated opponents all year. Friday night was no exception as Neuse rolled over visiting Cape Fear Christian Academy, 51-27. With the win, the Lions are three victories away from completing a perfect season.
But Neuse will face a stiff test against Northwood Temple on Monday. Northwood is sitting just a game behind the first-place Lions in the NCISAA’s Carolina Christian 1A Conference, and has extra motivation after getting crushed by 26 against them in early December.
“It was crucial (getting off to a fast start) because next week we play two of the top four teams in the state,” said Neuse coach Shane Wilder.
The boys’ Cape Fear Christian squad won in a shootout against Neuse, 102-94 in the nightcap.
The Lions (17-0, 8-0) got the start Wilder wanted from them. On both ends of the court, Neuse controlled every aspect of the game for the opening eight minutes. After the first quarter, they were up 28-0.
Led by Izabela Leite’s 14 points, who finished with a game-high 16 after sitting on the bench for the majority of the second half, the Lions were no match for the visiting Eagles. The Lions shot 3-of-6 from deep and held the Eagles to 0-for-9 shooting from the floor. Midway through the quarter, Wilder began to get his starters out of the game one-by-one.
Ten players scored for the Lions. Maria Albiero scored 10, Izabel DeAngelo finished with five, and Julia Zupicich, Mack Wilder, and Kaily Demorest each had four points.
“Truthfully, I wanted to get it close. I wanted to get it where we were within 10 or five points, that way we get a little exposure to tight games because we’re not battle-tested just yet,” coach Wilder said.
But the outcome was never in doubt.
The Eagles (4-6, 2-5) didn’t score their first point until Leah Brannon made 1-of-2 free throws at 5:43 of the second quarter. At 2:23, they had their first made field goal, a 3 from Kris Anna McLamb, which started an 8-0 run to end the first half. The Eagles still trailed 35-9 at halftime.
With Neuse’s reserves playing the majority of the game, Cape Fear was able to cut into their large deficit, even if it was ever so slightly. The Eagles outscored the Lions by four after the first quarter.
The win for the Eagles’ boys team created separation over the third-place Lions.
Cape Fear Christian (16-11, 7-2) sits two game back of first-place Northwood with two games left in the season, while Neuse Christian (7-11, 4-3) has its two-game win streak snapped.
After a tight opening quarter in which Cape Fear had a narrow 17-16 lead, the Eagles built a double-digit lead behind Milos Galogaza’s nine second-quarter points to take a 12-point lead into the locker room.
Galogaza finished with a team-high 30 points, while Isaiah Tatum had 27 and Michael Grigg chipped in 17.
“He’s a Division-I high caliber player. He’s only been here since August, he’s going to be a great player,” said Cape Fear coach Dwight Miller of Galogaza.
Entering the fourth and trailing by 14 points, Maurice Wilcox carried his team in an attempt for a come-from-behind victory. Wilcox scored 22 of his game-high 42 in the final quarter.
Neuse went on a 10-3 run during the first 90 seconds of the quarter to get their deficit under 10 points.
In the end, free throws proved huge for the Eagles. In trying to extend the game, the Lions put Cape Fear Christian on the free throw line often. It backfired as the Eagles made 11-of-16 from the stripe in the final two minutes to ice the win.
“What we’ve done all season at the end of games is to hit free throws,” said Miller. “We work on it a lot. In the fourth quarter, it comes down to the conditioning. We’re in good shape. If you’re in good shape, you can shoot free throws at the end of the game.”