Southeast Raleigh knew the strengths and weaknesses of the Knightdale girls’ basketball team.
In the last four seasons, Southeast led the series 7-1, with the Bulldogs winning the Greater Neuse River Conference title a year ago before advancing to the state title game in March. The last time they met conference foe Knightdale before Thursday, the Knights extracted a five-point victory.
So when the Bulldogs hosted Knightdale this time, they knew they had to push the pace.
And, boy, were they fast.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
They were quick to score in their 62-49 win over the Knights, staying undefeated on the year and moving to the top of the GNRC with East Wake.
I think looking at other teams, we’re faster than most. One thing we also have, because most teams have played us in zone all year, we know how to slow it down and work our offense to get what we need.
Southeast Raleigh girls’ basketball coach Nicole Meyers
Southeast (9-0, 4-0 GNRC) also bolted in transition, and its ball movement matched the pace.
The key for the Bulldogs was draining the Knights (7-3, 2-1) and finding ways to move the ball around one of the area’s top rebounders in Knightdale junior forward Zee Bowens.
“One thing we talked about during halftime was being aggressive and getting to the basket, not settling for jump shots,” Southeast coach Nicole Meyers said. “We knew that jump shots would be open and that’s what they wanted us to take, but we had to be a more disciplined team in knowing what our strength was, and that’s getting to the basket.”
But the Bulldogs leaned early on the three-point shot, which gave Bowens a chance to perform where she does best: on the defensive glass. She came in averaging 6.3 defensive boards and finished Thursday night with a game-best 16 despite her team’s loss. Southeast senior forward Kia Abrams led the game with 21 points.
Meyers in the third quarter told her sophomore point guard Jada McMillian, “No more 3s.” The Bulldogs at that point had a 40-26 edge after a fast strike following halftime, but Meyers couldn’t risk Bowens giving her club a chance to get back in the game. The last time the teams met, Knighdale erased a third-quarter deficit to win 50-45.
Southeast, behind McMillian, improvised against Bowens.
“First, we had to box out a lot. That would get us our fastbreaks and stuff,” said McMillian, who led the Bulldogs with six assists and helped spread the ball around and get it inside.
Southeast Raleigh, Knightdale and East Wake are the heavy-hitter girls’ team in the conference, and Thursday’s contest was a fight to inch closer to a league title.
“We definitely weren’t going to take them for granted,” Meyers said about the Knights. “They’re a great team, and they’re contending for the conference championship.”
The Bulldogs struck for 19 points in the third quarter, when they moved rapidly on both ends of the floor, starting with senior Mariah Partin splitting a pair of defenders inside to open scoring. Southeast swiftly attacked the basket next, making Knightdale pay for a string of turnovers that period.
The Knights made six shots from a combined four players and finished 1-of-8 from the free throw line in the third as Southeast further pulled away.
“We made adjustments,” Meyers said. “We were able to close out the shooters a little bit faster in the second half.”
Junior Danica Lucas had an and-1 opportunity after a Bulldogs steal before Kia Abrams got between a Knightdale bounce for a takeaway, drawing contact after a layup on the other end.
Abrams missed just one shot from the floor in the second half, and her three consecutive baskets to start the period contributed greatly to the victory.
Abrams wasn’t alone in her efforts though, as she and McMillian put their chemistry on display to break open a tight game.
McMillian came away with steals on back-to-back possessions to give the Bulldogs their first 10-point lead before the half. She drove it home and drew contact on one and found Abrams ahead of the break on the next.
“We work on it so much in practice,” said Abrams, who finished 70 percent from the floor. She also went 7-of-8 from the stripe. “We do game situations in practice, so in games it comes easy and natural to us.”
The Southeast Raleigh boys fell to Knightdale, 77-62, in the later game. Malik Bullock led the game with 13 points, while Sherman McLeod pulled down a team-high six boards.
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan