Almost perfect: One-loss Knights win Big East tourney, enter postseason looking for more
BY SAMUEL EVERS
Friday, February 22, 2019
If there is a better way to enter the 3-A state tournament, which begins Tuesday, than to win 24 straight games, a conference tournament, and, dating back to last season, 22 straight Big East games, Northern Nash coach Henry Drake would love to hear the argument.
“What can I say?” Drake said Friday night after his team beat Wilson Fike, 68-54, in a start-to-finish victory that clinched the Big East Conference tournament at the Rocky Mount Event Center. “Our seniors led us all week. The end result is we win the conference tournament. Now we start another tournament. Hopefully we can continue playing as well as we have.”
At this point, there really isn’t much to be said by Northern Nash until the first round tips. The Knights (24-1), with the lone blemish on their resume coming in a season-opening loss to Pinecrest, have set themselves up for a high seed when pairings are released Saturday, multiple home games once the bracket is set, and, hopefully, a run that lasts longer than the second round exit last year after a similar one-loss regular season.
“We wanted this game bad. We had a good feeling coming into this game,” said senior Sam Page. “Now we just have to keep working.”
Page, who was named to the all-tournament team alongside teammate Darquez Flowers, outscored the Demons on Friday in the first quarter by himself, 11-8. The guard made three 3-pointers in the first eight minutes and finished the game with 17 points.
“His shooting opens up a lot,” Drake said. “It opens up our inside. It makes everyone more difficult to defend.”
With Page hitting from outside, Davontae Wiggins, who was named the tournament’s MVP, racked up 10 points and eight rebounds, including a banked-in 3-pointer to beat the first-quarter buzzer.
The Knights led, 20-8, after the first quarter and by a 34-22 margin at halftime. The lead after three quarters extended to 17, with the Demons cutting it to single-digits, at nine, late in the game, but two straight baskets by Tarod Brown quelled the longshot comeback, and the Knights emptied their bench in the final minute in celebration of another one-loss regular season and a winning streak that swells by the game.
Northern Nash learns of its first-round opponent Saturday. They’ll also have that day to rest up, Drake said, then, it’s back to sharpening their bounce passes, their shots, their defense, and their minds.
“Mental toughness is all I’ve been talking about for the last two weeks. It has shown, and that has been the key over the last two weeks, how strong we have gotten mentally, and I am so proud of them on that, because I think that’s what we needed last year,” Drake said. “We have a lot of experience now. If we continue to have that mental toughness and not get rattled, we can go far in the playoffs.”