WILMINGTON — The Knightdale boys’ postseason fate was decided Wednesday night at New Hanover in a fashion common to this year’s high school basketball playoffs – at the buzzer.
With the score tied and three seconds to play, the No. 1 seed Wildcats put the ball in play and had a first shot attempt blocked. But New Hanover sophomore Lawrence Williams came up with the aftermath and hurled up a second-chance shot just fast enough for the basket to count, giving his team the 55-53 win and ticket to the third round of the 4A tournament.
“It felt like the longest three seconds ever,” said coach Anthony Byrd after his No. 16 seed Knights’ season concluded with 19 wins and five losses.
By escaping the near upset, New Hanover (25-2) moved on to host Panther Creek in the sectional final.
Knightdale entered the contest with more than just the challenge of facing the top-seeded team on the road. Its tallest star player, Daquan Lilly (13.9 points per game), had sprained his ankle in practice on Tuesday and was unable to play.
“It was a big factor not having him in the game,” Byrd said. “From what I saw tonight, (New Hanover) didn’t have anyone who could have guarded Daquan, and it probably would have opened up the game for us to have him there.”
The Wildcats led 29-19 after what Byrd said was a poor opening half by his team on multiple fronts. The Knights missed from the perimeter while the Wildcats scored in the paint and his key players committed too many fouls early on, Byrd said.
New Hanover scoring leader Ridell Camidge got 19 of his game-high 27 points in the first half.
“I told our players at the half it was nothing New Hanover was doing to us, it was what we were doing to ourselves,” he said. “We shot ourselves in the foot. We weren’t hitting shots and gave the referees too many opportunities to call fouls by not playing good enough defense.”
Foul troubles forced Byrd to sit Ronshad Allen-Shabazz for a portion of the first half. Allen-Shabazz (14 points) and fellow starters Tre Fowler (10) and Antonio Watson fouled out late in the fourth quarter.
That wasn’t before Marquavious Johnson (10 points) came off the bench and did work for the Knights, hitting two 3-pointers and a lay-up on consecutive possessions. Those points were key as Knightdale rallied to knot the score at 49 with just over a minute to play. A lay-up by Travius Hyman secured the final tie at 53.
“At one point in the game I’m pretty sure the New Hanover players had some doubt, especially when we made that run in the fourth quarter,” Byrd said.
The Knightdale boys exceeded expectations in Byrd’s first season as head coach.
“I’m proud of the season we had with 19 wins this season,” he said. “They practiced hard every day, played hard in the ballgames, were easy to coach and we just had a good time. We’re looking forward to getting back on the court next season.”
Knightdale 60, Pine Forest 51
Knightdale’s boys made the most of an opportune situation to put away Fayetteville Pine Forest 60-51 in the first playoff round Monday night.
A technical foul called against the No. 17 Trojans (17-10) in the final minute transformed a one-possession game into an unbreakable cushion for the Knights.
“It was bad timing for Pine Forest and great timing for us,” Byrd said. “We were able to take advantage of that. We hit the free throws, got the ball in-bounds and scored again.
“We went up about seven at that point and the game was pretty much over with the amount of time left on the clock.”
The Knights jumped to a 12-0 lead through the first two minutes, 12 seconds of the contest largely thanks to a series of baskets by Lilly. He led all scorers with 26 points and added eight rebounds.
“That’s the type of player he is,” Byrd said of Lilly. “He gets a double-double every night. He just comes out and does it.”
But the Trojans didn’t lay down. They responded with 14 unanswered points to close out the first quarter.
Pine Forest held its largest lead of the night, by 4 points, with 3:53 left in the second quarter and went into halftime up 24-21.
“That team kept on playing,” Byrd said of the visitors. “You know – it’s the playoffs, and they got back in it. We had a good run, but they stayed with it and made it a dogfight throughout the contest.”
Byrd said he and his coaches kept cool because they knew what changes they needed to make for the second half. He said he got the result he was looking for after reminding his players to play unselfishly.
“They got a little better in the second half playing as a team,” Byrd said.
Allen-Shabazz added 16 points for the Knights.
Moody: 919-829-4806; Twitter: @easternwakenews