With only three losses the entire campaign, it would be easy to assume that the East Wake Warriors had little left to prove in the final week of the girls basketball regular season.
Four days after a tough setback against Southeast Raleigh, the Warriors returned to the court Tuesday for a home showdown against Knightdale, which edged East Wake last month in a Greater Neuse River Conference thriller.
Throw in the Senior Night festivities, and East Wake had plenty to play for during a much-anticipated rematch that would send the winner into second place outright in the GNRC.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
After a sluggish start, the Warriors roared ahead for good in the second period and went on to pull away from the Knights en route to picking up a 73-59 decision.
Knightdale avoided the varsity sweep by outlasting the cold-shooting Warriors 61-53 in the boys outing.
EW girls get back on track
During the previous defeat at Knightdale, East Wake girls coach Toni Dupree bemoaned her club’s lack of intensity, but that wasn’t an issue Tuesday as the Warriors (19-3, 11-2) played solid defense and controlled the boards, especially on the offensive end.
“This was a very important game’’ Dupree said. “We hustled and played with a lot of heart.’’
A strategic plot twist from Dupree helped shift the momentum toward the Warriors for good in the second frame. Knightdale’s perimeter shooters had shredded East Wake’s zone defense to that point and helped the Knights (16-5, 10-3) surge ahead 24-16 before Dupree moved her club into a man-to-man, with an emphasis on half-court pressure.
Suddenly, Knightdale was unable to find open looks. And on the other end of the court, East Wake earned four offensive rebounds on three separate possessions. The Warriors scored on each of those trips, much to the displeasure of Knights coach Trent Bunn, who called a pair of time-outs in an attempt to get his squad to be more competitive on the glass.
“We didn’t rebound,’’ said Knightdale guard Mikaya Wilson. “We didn’t put a body on people. One of the keys to our offense is being able to get rebounds on defense.’’
East Wake embarked on a 12-0 spurt and carried a 32-26 advantage into halftime. The Warriors didn’t trail again while extending their cushion to as many as 16 points in the second half.
“We were trying to prove what type of team we have,’’ said East Wake senior Angel Rizor, a Cincinnati signee. “We needed to come out an play a full game and just enjoy playing basketball. I guess you could say that this was a statement game that we are back.’’
Rizor, playing her final regular-season home game, poured in 22 points to pace the Warriors. Teammates Tamira Knuckles (13) and Emiyah Brown (11) combined for 24 markers.
Melody Prichard delivered 26 points for Knightdale, including seven 3-pointers.
The contest was the first meeting between longtime rivals Rizor and Wilson since it was announced that both standouts would be representing the state at the annual Carolinas All-Star Basketball Classic. The event, which features a girls-boys doubleheader between North Carolina and South Carolina’s All Stars, will be held March 19 at Socastee High School in Myrtle Beach.
“We played on the same AAU team two years ago, and (Rizor) is my friend off the court,’’ said Wilson, who will continue her career at Appalachian State. “She can shoot well. So when I drive and kick, I know she is going to be there to knock down the shot. I know her game really well, and that should help us.’’
Said Rizor: “We are very familiar with each other, so this will be nothing new. We talk a lot. It’s cool that we both made (the North Carolina roster). It shows you how competitive this conference is.”
Win keeps KHS boys in No. 3 spot
The boys contest saw Knightdale (17-6, 9-4) maintain its hold on third place in the GNRC with the breakaway victory.
Despite leading the entire way, the Knights couldn’t shake the Warriors (10-11, 5-8) in the first half, which closed with Knightdale clutching a 22-19 advantage.
But the Knights opened the second half with a 14-3 surge to take charge for good.
“At halftime, I talked with one of my assistant coaches about how we could be more efficient,’’ said Knights coach Anthony Byrd. “In the first half, we had a difficult time getting the ball in the paint. The big difference in the third period was that we got the ball inside. And if nothing was there, we were able to send it back outside for good shots. We played really good team ball after that.’’
Knightdale guard Dondre Griffin, a Murray State signee, was the game’s leading scorer with 23 points, including four treys.
East Wake was led by nine points from Tyrell Jones, but the Warriors were hindered by 15-of-28 shooting from the free throw line. During one stretch in the second quarter, East Wake missed six straight free tosses.