While East Wake and Southeast Raleigh have received plenty of accolades in the first half of the season, Knightdale would like to remind everyone that there is another high-level club in the talent-laden Greater Neuse River Conference girls basketball standings.
The host Knights provided an emphatic statement to that effect Friday with a 61-59 decision over East Wake to move into a three-way tie for the top spot in the GNRC along with the Warriors and Southeast.
It also marked the first time any of the current Knightdale players defeated East Wake, as it was just the second time in the history of the rivalry that the Knights ousted the Warriors. The last time, and first time, was in January 2007.
“We feel like we have one of the better teams out there,” said Knightdale’s Akira Wiggins, who scored the eventual contest-winner on a breakaway layup with nine seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. “I felt like this was a game for us to prove ourselves.”
Knightdale (11-3 overall, 5-1 GNRC), fueled by the masterful play of point guard Mikaya Wilson, seemed one step ahead of the Warriors for three dominant periods. The Knights were ahead by 17 points (53-36) going into the closing frame before East Wake (13-2, 5-1) put together a furious final rally – and even tied the score on Angel Rizor’s stickback with 23 seconds left.
“We let that big lead go, and it made us nervous,” Wilson said. “We felt like we lost focus for a second, but we were able to pull ourselves together.”
The Warriors were one week removed from a huge victory over 2015 4A state runner up Southeast Raleigh that seemed to put them in early control of the GNRC standings. East Wake coach Toni Dupree didn’t think her club came close to matching the intensity level of its clutch decision seven days earlier.
“We just didn’t come to play,” Dupree said. “We had exams this week and hadn’t played since (the win over Southeast), but that’s not an excuse. Hopefully, it was a lesson learned.”
Knightdale seemed to have a triumph well in hand going into the fourth quarter, but East Wake used the combined heroics of Angel Rizor and Mikieja Covington to roar back. After tying the score at 59, the Warriors got the ball back momentarily off a turnover, only to see the Knights come up with an ensuing loose ball. Somehow, two Knightdale players got behind East Wake’s defense in the frantic moment, and a pass was sent down to Wiggins for an uncontested layup.
“Le’Zarea (Bowens) made a great pass to me,” Wiggins said. “My first thought was just to make this shot for my team. I was trying to hustle back because you never know what is going to happen.”
Following a quick East Wake turnover, Knightdale had a chance to seal the victory, but the Knights missed the front end of a one-and-one situation.
The Warriors rebounded and called a timeout to set up a final play that saw Rizor get an open look for a potential winner from 22 feet out from the right side. Rizor’s attempt bounced off the rim, went back up into the air and glanced the rim one more time on its way down. For an instant, the shot appeared to be going down, but it popped back out as the buzzer sounded.
They said it
“We definitely have a lot of heart,” Dupree said. “We fought back. We just need to have that the whole game.”
Three to know
Mikaya Wilson, Knightdale: The Appalachian State University signee collected 22 points and six assists while causing the Warriors fits with her speed, smarts and ballhandling ability.
“Mikaya is phenomenal both on and off the court,” said Knightdale coach Trent Bunn. “She sets the standard for our team. She just got nominated for the McDonald’s All-American Team, she is a member of the National Honor Society and she has been academic all-conference three times. She is a special person.”
Angel Rizor, East Wake: The University of Cincinnati recruit poured in a double-double of 27 points and 10 rebounds. Ten of Rizor’s points came in the fourth period as part of the Warriors’ late comeback attempt.
Melody Prichard, Knightdale: With East Wake paying plenty of attention to Wilson, the Knights turned to Prichard, who offered 15 points and five boards. She scored eight markers, including a pair of threes, during Knightdale’s 20-10 advantage in the first quarter.
By the numbers
0: The number of times Bunn had defeated East Wake during his four-year tenure at Knightdale – before Friday night.
“We always think we can compete,” said Bunn, a former assistant at the UNC-Wilmington. “But we try not to look at one game as being any more important than the other. I thought we were very prepared for this game.”
23-6: The run East Wake had in the fourth quarter until Wiggins countered with the biggest moment of her career to date.
2: Wiggins collected just two baskets – and five points – during the showdown. But her winning layup proved most important.
1: The most points East Wake was able to lead by, and that came for the final time at 6-5 before Knightdale closed the opening quarter with a 15-4 spurt.