Northern Nash figured out how to beat Southern Wayne with a simple formula Tuesday night: Remain on the floor.
Just two weeks after losing to the Saints in a game in which seven of their players fouled out, the Knights kept the officials’ whistles quiet and secured an easy 69-29 victory to improve to 3-1 on the young season.
Senior Alexus Hill – as she likely will during the season – led Northern Nash with 17 points during a game in which the Knights never trailed.
Northern Nash lost to Southern Wayne, 56-51, on Nov. 20 in a contest where coach Grover Battle’s team was cruising to victory until foul trouble derailed its shot of leaving Goldsboro with a win.
“I know we were a much better team,” Battle said. “(Tuesday), we played hard, we played smart. We’re not where we need to be, but we’re getting there.”
Hill is the only returning starter from a program that lost four starters after last season’s run to the third round of the NCHSAA 3-A state playoffs.
Tuesday, the Gardner-Webb bound guard had plenty of help, especially in the post. The Knights have 12 1/2 feet of inside presence between CeCe Harrison (8 points, 5 blocks) and Kiana Thomas (11 points, 14 rebounds, 3 blocks).
“They played hard, they blocked shots, they rebounded,” Battle said. “I thought they did an outstanding job.”
Suzie Sykes provided key outside shooting early for the Knights, who increased their lead after every quarter.
Battle said that early-season contributions are coming from every player who takes the floor.
“We feel each and every one of them is capable of helping us,” Battle said. “We just need to get to that point.”
When the Knights played to their strength, good things happened against Southern Wayne.
Unfortunately for coach Rick Ruffin’s squad, it suffered an identity crisis for long spurts of a 65-58 loss in Tuesday’s nightcap.
Northern Nash tossed up too many misfired three-point attempts, while Southern Wayne made enough of its own to avenge a loss two weeks prior.
Kendrick Richardson paced Northern Nash with 16 points, and D.J. Prunty added 14 for the Knights, but Ruffin felt those numbers were too low because the duo was not given the opportunity to operate down low.
“We’re a much better team when we go inside-outside,” Ruffin said. “That hurt us. We settled for the outside shot too much instead of looking for our big men.”
The game changed from an eight-point Northern Nash advantage late in the first quarter to a deficit of the same amount in the second quarter when the Knights (2-2) began to rely on the three-point shot.
They fell behind by 11 in the third quarter before rallying. Richardson and Prunty combined for six field goals in the frame, keeping Northern Nash in the game.
Back-to-back baskets by Richardson tied the game at 45 early in the fourth quarter, but Southern Wayne went on an 8-0 run that included back-to-back 3-pointers by Tarvis Bradshaw, who paced the Saints with 16 points.
“When we went inside, we had success,” Ruffin said. “We’re not going to win games shooting 3s. We have to be an inside-outside team. That set us back (Tuesday).”
Jessie H. Nunery can be reached at 407-9959 or email@example.com