KNIGHTDALE — Regardless of the outcome of Friday’s game, the Clayton and Knightdale girls basketball teams knew they’d face each other again on Monday in the first round of the conference tournament.
The 53-48 overtime win for the Knights (8-15, 6-8 Greater Neuse River 4A) caught up with the Comets (13-8, 6-8) for a tie at No. 4 in regular-season league play. But the win was particularly special to Knightdale coach Anthony Byrd.
“It was really big for us to beat Clayton tonight and it was really huge especially for me as a coach because it was my first time beating Clayton,” Byrd said. “I was really happy with them for the first time in a long time.”
The teams had to draw straws to determine the fourth and fifth seeds for the conference tournament. But the draw will have little to no ripple in the grand scheme of things, as both teams expect a state playoff berth by being a top-five seed in the league. The only thing that could keep the fifth seeded team out of the state tournament would be a conference tournament upset win by a team seeded No. 3 or higher.
Clayton coach Marlon Lee said, like other teams, upsets are on his team’s agenda from this point forward.
“We’re trying to play for the conference championship Friday night,” Lee said. “From now on it’s not about a record. It’s about can we be 1-and-0.”
Putting up numbers: Knightdale’s Amber Wright and Clayton’s Vanessa Pitts led all scorers with 18 points each, while Knightdale’s Persia Brown finished with 14.
Turning point: With the Knights leading 49-48, Wright missed two shots from the charity stripe with 32 seconds left in overtime. On the ensuing inbound, Pitts took a feed inside but missed on a short jumper. Mikaya Wilson came up with the rebound and dished the ball to Brown, who passed backed to Wilson, who got fouled. Wilson hit both free throws, and later two more after she came up with the rebound of one final shot by Pitts on the other end.
Unsung hero: Brown came up with a huge rebound while Pitts was posing an ongoing threat in the lane inside the final two minutes of the overtime period. Brown didn’t score in the overtime period, but the huge defensive board preserved a 3-point lead for the Knights when every point counted.
What worked: Knightdale hit just one field goal outside 10 feet in the game, but didn’t need to depend on the deep ball. The Knights set up shop in the lane, scoring almost all their points there or at the free throw line.
“Coming into the season, I knew the post was our strength. Tonight, Amber and Persia really stepped it up,” Byrd said. “They had a major presence on the inside on both ends. Clayton’s (Pitts) took some tough shots over some long arms in the paint. The girls made her work for what she had to get.”
Back and forth: By the end of the first quarter, Clayton led 13-5. Knightdale was 2-for-13 overall in shooting at the time, while Clayton was 4-for-9.
“We jumped on them in the first quarter, and that’s what we wanted to do,” Lee said. “Once we got to the second quarter, it was the story of plenty of our losses – unforced turnovers. We turned the ball over, only picked up one field goal in the second quarter and gave them some momentum going into the second half.
Knightdale capitalized on three of Clayton’s six turnovers in the second frame, getting five points from Wright in the first five minutes of the second quarter to cut the deficit to four, 15-11. The Knights led 20-19 at the half.
Clayton forced four consecutive turnovers and turned them into eight unanswered points to start the fourth quarter and get within two, 36-34.
Best quote: Byrd expounded on the chat he had with his players following a rocky first quarter.
“I talked to the girls and told them we’re not playing with any heart,” he said. “It’s like we’re walking dead. We’ve got to get better and come out with some wheel and not let them kick us in the face.”
Going forward: Byrd said only good things can come from a win to end the regular season.
“The big picture of this is it’s going to give our girls some confidence knowing that they can beat that team, and it should be a big game as we go over and play them at Southeast Monday,” Byrd said.