KNIGHTDALE — In a back-and-forth game that went down to the final eight minutes, Knightdale’s Amber Wright was the key to the Knights’ seventh win of the season Friday night over Garner, 42-36.
For two teams that have struggled to string together wins this season, Knightdale (7-14 overall, 5-7 Greater Neuse River 4A) and Garner (3-15, 3-9) came into Friday night’s matchup with just one loss combined in their last six contests, including a three-game winning streak for Garner.
“I was proud of the way they played in the first half,” Knightdale coach Anthony Byrd said. “Garner fought all the way to the end and we had 15 turnovers in the second half. I think we panicked just a little, but they kept fighting and pulled it out.”
Turning point: After the Knights dominated the first half and the Trojans got hot in the third quarter, the final quarter was where Knightdale got its final push from forwards Lovely Locklear and Amber Wright.
After pulling down a combined 16 rebounds in the game, 13 offensively, Locklear and Wright pulled down offensive boards on consecutive possessions and made two baskets in the final minute to create separation and ultimately clinch the win for the Knights.
Putting up numbers: Wright led all scorers in the first half with eight and though she finished with just 10, her final basket came as the game came down to the wire.
The senior leader tied with Locklear and Garner’s Kiyani Stokes in scoring, but finished with 12 rebounds to complete the double-double.
“Amber’s been outstanding all year for us,” Byrd said. “We’re putting it all on her back right now and riding her wherever she takes us. We’re still working to get to the state playoffs and the only way we can get there is if she keeps this up.”
Working well: The Knights had it working all night in the paint. Knightdale scored its first 12 points in the paint and six of those came in transition. In fact, the Knights didn’t take their first shot outside of the paint until the 1:16 mark in the first quarter.
Knightdale was also able to get several early stops in the first and second quarter, which led to a 15-0 run after an early 4-4 tie to take a 25-14 lead into the locker rooms.
That trend continued throughout the contest, as the Knights accumulated 28 of their points in the paint thanks to 18 from Wright and Locklear.
“I told the girls we had to win that battle tonight,” Byrd said. “I think we did pretty much whatever we wanted inside and were able to survive at the end because of that.”
Improvement needed: Trojan shots missed their mark throughout the contest, which was evident in the first half. Garner made just one basket and two free throws in the entire first quarter and finished with a 27.7 shooting percentage at the half.
Though Garner was able to shoot better in the second half to finish with a 40.54 shooting percentage, coach Hardrick Mays said the early woes were too much for his team.
“We stunk it up,” Mays said. “We never played our game defensively or offensively, but our first half shooting set the tone of the game. We came back out and had to expend so much energy to get back into it and made poor decisions at the end.”