Research Triangle’s basketball teams had to step up when it mattered most, pulling away from Woods Charter in the fourth quarter of both games to sweep the away series.
The Raptor girls scored 17 in the fourth quarter to win 40-32, and the dynamic duo of Zaire Stukes and J’Quan Deal led the boys to a 59-46 victory.
It took three quarters for Research Triangle – a charter school in RTP that draws students from Morrisville, Durham, Cary and other areas – to take its first lead of the night. Bryia Huskey’s drive at the end of the period – which tied the game up at 23-23 – sparked a 7-0 run to open the fourth quarter.
Woods Charter – a charter school near the Chatham County community of Fearrington, south of Chapel Hill – was able to claw its way back into the lost lead, with Rose Vaughn’s 3-pointer narrowing the deficit to 34-32 with 1:13 to go.
The Raptors’ free throw prowess was able to hold off the comeback attempt, though, as Huskey, Anisha Watwe and Haley Hillison finished a perfect 6 for 6 from the charity strip in the last minute-and-a-half.
“Our girls spend the last 15 minutes of each practice shooting free throws, and we run when we miss them,” Research Triangle coach Robert Eastmann said.
The Raptors, who are entering only their third season of play, improved to 4-10 overall and 3-5 in North Central Athletic Conference play, already the best mark in school history.
“We’re new, it’s true. We’ve been working all summer, the girls showed up committed and it’s starting to show,” Eastmann said. “They were used to just being destroyed and now we’re learning how to win and they’re doing it. A game like this shows that character to battle back, in other years … we didn’t have that.”
Woods Charter dropped to 1-8 overall and 1-7 in the NCAC in a season that has been falling short largely due to the team’s youth. The Wolves started two freshmen and three sophomores against the Raptors and only have two juniors on the roster.
“Any confidence booster we can get, these tight games give (us) a strive to come back the next game,” Woods Charter coach Tim Buso said. “They’re growing into it and the next couple years they may be a force to reckon with.”
Despite a sluggish start, the Research Triangle boys raced ahead to a 59-46 victory on the heels of J’Quan Deal and Zaire Stukes, who combined to score 44 points and collect 13 rebounds.
Beau Bryant hit a 35-footer at the end of the first quarter to give the Raptors a 12-11 lead, one they wouldn’t relinquish for the remainder of the night – though it would come close.
Facing a 10-point deficit at halftime, Woods Charter’s Fleet Morgan stepped up in the second half to drop 20 of his 24 points.
The Wolves (1-8, 1-7) came as close to 40-38, but when Research Triangle coach LaMont Frazier left Stukes and Deal on the floor together for most of the fourth quarter – despite swapping shifts the majority of the night – the Raptors proved unstoppable.
When the gap closed to two points, Frazier took a timeout to fire up the team, resulting in a 19-6 run to end the game.
“They were hoping the game would go away and they wouldn’t have to finish playing,” Frazier said. “They responded the way any coach could ask them to, as well as humanly possible. There’s no other team I would rather coach.”
Deal says improved teamwork has been spurring the Raptors’ success in 2016.
“Coach told (Stukes and I) to figure out how to play together and over the course of the season we’ve figured it out – we take turns, get each other involved and do what we need to do to get the ‘W,’” Deal said.
After ending 2015 on a three game losing streak, the Raptors have won two straight to open the new year, improving to 5-9, 3-5.
“This brings us a lot of confidence, hopefully we use the momentum to play the next game and continue playing as a team,” Stukes said.
“And to the state playoffs,” Deal added.