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Perfect Knights: Nothern Nash boys, girls open conference play with wins

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Northern Nash’s Davontae Wiggins, left, collides into Hunt’s Malcolm Coley Tuesday during Northern Nash’s home game against Hunt at Northern Nash High School.

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By PATRICK MASON
Sports Writer

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Only Northern Nash can make a win can feel more like a loss.

The Knights opened 3-A Big East Conference play on Tuesday with a 72-69 win over visiting Wilson Hunt. Northern Nash needed Warriors guard Shaquille Wade’s last-second game-tying 3-pointer to fall short in order to hang on to the win.

“On paper it’s a win, but in our minds, no,” Knights coach Henry Drake said. “We’re not satisfied with the way we played tonight. We have to really get after it in practice. There’s no more games where you’re blowing somebody out or having that comfortable lead throughout. They guys have to understand that.”

The Knights feel this way because they’ve been the class of the Big East Conference two years running. And despite the slim victory, the Knights announced that they are still the team to beat.

Northern Nash (13-1, 1-0) has enjoyed a recent string of strong seasons under Drake by reaching the playoffs in each of his four prior years. Now, the team is riding a 13-game winning streak and staring down a chance at an undefeated conference record for the third straight season.

Joseph Cherry-Blue scored a game-high 31 points, Darquez Flowers finished with 11, and Sencere Battle came off the bench to add nine, all of which came in the second half.

Last season’s team had win streaks of 10 and 14 games, and the 2016-17 season featured a stretch with 12 straight wins. Yet the Knights have advanced past the second round just once out of the past four seasons.

So with another powerhouse team with a regular rotation that went as deep as four players on Tuesday, what have the Knights and Drake learned about being the favorites in just about every game they play?

“We’ve learned that regardless of what our record is the last two years, people are not just going to die down,” Drake said. “Like I tell the guys, teams are looking at our record now, what we’ve done in the past, and I say ‘Y’all are the Duke of high school basketball.’ You have to be ready for someone’s best every night.”

Girls’ Basketball

Northern Nash 43

Wilson Hunt 36

Northern Nash extended its winning streak to four games with the home 3-A Big East Conference win.

The Knights (4-7) opened their season with seven consecutive losses, but haven’t lost a game since Dec. 20. It was the first conference game for both teams, and Wilson Hunt entered Tuesday’s game with a 9-2 record.

The Warriors (9-3) will likely be in position to contend for a conference title in a month, but couldn’t figure out the Knights’ swarming defense.

Knights coach Grover Battle isn’t surprised by the turnaround. The longtime coach had said early this year that he believed his team would improve once it was able to play more man-to-man defenses. And as the young roster improved throughout the season, his defensive ideals have become reality.

Battle also scheduled a tough non-conference schedule that had the Knights playing road games in places like Raleigh and Greenville.

“It’s a process, it doesn’t happen fast,” Battle said. “We played a tough non-conference schedule, and people want to look at the record and say it’s not working. But, again, it’s a process and these girls worked hard so I’m proud of them.”

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