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WENDELL — Calling the 62-61 Knightdale boys basketball triumph over East Wake the best game of the year so far doesn’t carry much of an early-January 2020 impact; however, the traded spurts, leads, dunks, emotional moments, crowd contributions and down-to-the-buzzer finale would present the same appreciated thrill ride any month forward.
The Knights (10-5) avenged a December 2019 defeat versus the Warriors (8-5). They also capped a 3-1 streak since that loss, while East Wake took an opposite track along a 1-3 spell following the prior showdown. Both used this thrill ride as a catapult into league debut successes nonetheless.
For the season archrivalry sequel, the host Warriors enjoyed the initial outburst. The gap might have been double figures, except they struggled from the free-throw line all night long while missing their first six charity tries in a row. They finished a miserable 10-of-26 (38.5 percent) overall.
It made a difference from start to finish since Knightdale knocked down 19-of-27 (70 percent) — including nine of their last 10 down the nerve-tingling stretch.
With the squads sharing 7-of-12 makes beyond the three-point arc, long range kept them switching quarter control. In fact, Knightdale led by one (13-12) after one period. Then East Wake grabbed a three-point (28-25) edge by intermission. Then the Knights swung out front by seven (41-34) with eight minutes left.
From there, the individual stars twinkled under the spotlight. Knightdale’s Rodney Ellis (18 points, four rebounds, four assists) continually forged driving paths to the basket. Ayinde Taylor II (13 points, six rebounds) cashed in a pair of critical ones before stepping up to the stripe with six seconds left to seal the deal. Both free throws secured a 4-point advantage
Those heroics held off an inspired Warrior comeback which saw them miss two point-blank layups to produce late ties. A Julius Cappeletti (six points, four rebounds) pickpocket still tied a 58-58 knot with less than a minute remaining.
Knightdale failed to convert its next shot, but freshman Micah Sumpter (seven points, four rebounds) capped his varsity premiere by snatching the outlet pass and posting the underneath bucket to recapture the upperhand. After an ensuing Warrior bid rimmed out from a foot away, Taylor snared the ricochet and drew the foul.
Warrior Isaiah Holman (nine points, three rebounds, three assists) nailed a trey with 1.5 seconds left to narrow the gap to almost nothing, but Knight Chris Mitchell (six points, four rebounds) inbounded long to Eliis 60 feet away to drain the clock.
Knightdale’s positive turnabout hinged on surviving another interior scare from East Wake center Javon Mercer (19 points, 11 rebounds). The solution came from Taylor avoiding foul trouble and canceling out much of the familiar double-double damage this time around.
R.J. Vick (13 points) and Jeremiah Crudup (11 points, six assists, four steals) formed a triple threat to the visitors’ victory hopes. Ellis’ usual leadership plus Sumpter’s surprising strength plus Taylor’s unflappable performance boosted the invaders.
Knightdale added to those vibes by blitzing Wake Forest, 65-47, in its NAC 6 conference opener Friday. East Wake recovered and routed Cleveland, 62-45, in its Greater Neuse River Conference curtain raiser.
Knightdale will play Heritage at home at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 17.