KNIGHTDALE — The Knights played suffocating pressure defense against Clayton’s girls on Tuesday night, never letting the Comets come up for air in a Greater Neuse River 4A Conference game.
Forcing turnovers from the outset, Knightdale opened up a 24-5 lead after the first quarter and cruised to a 62-34 victory.
“We’re all about defense,” Knightdale coach Trent Bunn said. “That’s what we do to begin practice, that’s what we do to end practice and that’s what we do in the middle of practice, is to play good defense, because that will correlate into good offense.”
That was the formula for success for the Knights (9-2, 2-0 GNRC) against Clayton (7-2, 1-1) – pressuring the Comets guards, overplaying the passing lanes and contesting every Comets possession.
“We can put the ball in the hole, we’ve just got to stop people,” Bunn said. “We want to play hard defense every single possession and value the possessions we get.”
Clayton struggled to score against the Knights, trailing 37-12 at the end of the first half. The constant pressure from Knightdale never allowed Clayton to get into an offensive flow.
“Unforced turnovers, that is one of the things I had on the board coming in,” Clayton coach Marlon Lee said. “We knew they were going to come out with their defensive pressure and we needed to attack it.
“I told the girls not to dribble left and right but to dribble north and south and put the pressure on the referees to call the fouls. Defensively, (Knightdale) did a good job. Another thing I had on the board was to keep their guards out of the paint. They sliced us up all night.”
Sophomore guard Mikaya Wilson led the Knights with 23 points and junior guard Lovely Locklear had 17, providing a dynamic one-two punch in the backcourt for Knightdale.
“Mikaya Wilson is our constant,” Bunn said. “She’s our steering wheel and she gives us that steadiness. From the starters to the bench, it was a total team effort.”
Knightdale’s strong start is positioning the Knights to be a contender in the tough Greater Neuse River Conference.
“We’ve been kicked around enough in the past in this conference,” Bunn said. “I try to instill in the girls, ‘Look, there is a bully on the other side of the street. You can’t run from it.’ ”
Clayton was led by junior guard Taisha Murphy’s 15 points, but she was the only Comet in double figures. Murphy is averaging more than 20 points per game this season and scored a season-high 36 points in an overtime victory over Cleveland on Nov. 29.
“I told the girls this is how it’s going to be in the Greater Neuse,” Lee said. “We’ll keep our heads held high and go back and watch the film. The little things that we were doing when we were beating teams by 20 points, they came back to haunt us.
“We’ll just have to learn from this.”
Knightdale, meanwhile, will keep working on its bread and butter: defense.
“This one is over,” Bunn said. “We’ve got to go on to the next day and have a good day of practice. We’ve got to keep working.”