Even against a team it had blown out twice, Northern Nash had to learn that the playoffs operate a little differently than the regular season.
A mostly young Northern Nash team received the lesson quickly.
The second-seeded Knights recovered from a surprisingly close first half against No. 31 Wilson Fike to create a comfortable lead in the second half, winning their NCHSAA 3-A playoffs opener, 62-45, Monday at Northern Nash High School.
The Knights threw away the ball 11 times in the first half, and four Fike three-pointers had the Golden Demons within four at halftime.
“I told them in the locker room, Fike’s in their locker room happy because they were down four,” Northern Nash guard Alexus Hill said. “I told them we can’t start off in the playoffs like this.”
Exactly a month before Monday’s game, Northern Nash and Fike (9-16) met for the first time. The Knights won, 67-25.
The Golden Demons team that showed up to Northern Nash (24-1) on Monday was better by a significant margin, even in the span of four weeks.
“We are night and day from where we were at the beginning of the conference last year,” Fike coach Kim Howard said. “We’re playing against a very solid Northern Nash team right there, and I don’t think our girls came out intimidated at all.”
The Knights went into halftime well aware that an adjustment needed to be made, especially from an energy perspective.
“We told them that we were throwing the ball away, that we weren’t playing very hard (and) we weren’t very focused,” Northern Nash coach Grover Battle said.
Northern Nash started the second half like the heavy favorite it was. The Knights elected to pull back on their aggressive press to stay with shooters, and the move paid dividends.
The Knights forced Fike into eight third-quarter turnovers, and Hill made lay-ups on three breakaways as part of a 12-1 run that blew open the game.
Fike made only two field goals in the third quarter, and the second round was in reach for the Knights.
“In the second half, we backed up off them on the press and played good defense,” Battle said. “In the past couple months, when we have done that, no matter who we have played, we’ve done very well.”
Hill led Northern Nash with 21 points, 13 of which came after halftime. Kiana Thomas scored 16 points for Northern Nash.
Dajah Horne scored 21 for Fike, but leading scorer E.J. Proctor was held to 11 points, a result of Hill’s defense.
“I just pushed up on her,” Hill said. “She had to come off screens, and every time she came off a screen, I was there.”
The Knights went on a 7-0 run in the fourth quarter, and Hill’s made jump shot with 3:08 remaining in the game gave Northern Nash a 20-point lead.
Northern Nash will play host to No. 15 Eastern Alamance at 7 p.m Wednesday.
Eastern Alamance beat No. 18 Wilson Hunt, 60-51, in its first round game Monday.
Regardless of the opponent, Hill said Northern Nash can’t afford to play another first half like the one it played Monday.
“If we play like this again, we get beat,” Hill said. “That’s what we told them. Some of them have never been in this position in the playoffs. I told them (that) I’ve been there, and you have to come out strong.
“If you come out slow, somebody’s going to catch you.”
No. 2 Northern Nash 62
No. 31 Wilson Fike 45
WF 11 14 7 13 – 45
NN 14 15 16 17 – 62
WF: Dajah Horne (21 points); E.J. Proctor (11 points); Rebekah Langley (7 points); Kayla Howard, Savannah Eatmon, Alexis Spells (2 points).
NN: Alexus Hill (21 points); Kiana Thomas (16 points); Alexia Hines (7 points); Jahlia Williams (6 points); Suzie Sykes (5 points); Amanda Richardson (4 points); CeCe Harrison (2 points); Kayla Tucker (1 point).
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz @rmtelegram.com