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The contributions of many put the Wilson Prep varsity boys basketball team in position to hand North Edgecombe its first loss in 1-A Tar Roanoke Conference play on Tuesday night at home.
The Warriors, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s fifth-ranked 1-A team according to MaxPreps.com, entered the contest against the Tigers with an unblemished 5-0 record in league play. Along the way, the Warriors played with confidence, staving off Wilson Prep’s best efforts for as long as it could and keeping the game close as the momentum swung like a pendulum into the waning moments.
But the Tigers had too many contributions to let the fate slip away in what became a huge 70-66 victory.
“It felt good against the No. 1 team in our conference,” Tigers junior Nasiar Blackston said. “It’s not actually that cool because I knew we were going to come out and win with all the hard work we put in.”
Though Blackston tried to downplay the win, his contributions were huge, as were his teammates, in what was a tough win earned. Matching Adrian Land with 17 points — and adding eight rebounds — to lead the team in scoring, the 6-foot-4 Blackston had a big bucket that tied the game at 64 late, marking the last gridlock before the Tigers took over for good. Afterward, WPA head coach Anthony Atkinson was mobbed by his team — with Blackston among them — as they celebrated near the bench to soak in the moment. Players leapt into the air and most of the home fans stuck around to mingle in.
The team finished with 18 assists, six blocks and 19 offensive rebounds.
“We are the best team in 1-A and we’re coming for the state championship,” said Tigers guard JaQuay Johnson, who came up with a big steal to preserve victory up just two points with seconds remaining. “That’s all I want to say.”
After the comment, Johnson, who requested his own interview, abruptly ended his talk, walking away with a smile on his face. His statement was made. If the Tigers have big postseason aspirations, the victory over North Edgecombe will help the program turn in that direction. The team went through a rough patch at the start of winter break that led into the start of this month, but has seemingly gotten back on track with four straight victories, which prepares the program for a run toward challenging the top of the conference.
Understandably, after a big win, the Tigers rode the momentum after what was a long game where it struggled to keep any distance from the Warriors.
The first half saw eight ties, a lead change nearly every possession and a pair of teams determined to outshoot the other, but unable to do so.
Wilson Prep entered halftime up one point, but came no closer to increasing its lead by the end of the third quarter, with the Warriors matching the Tigers with 24 points that quarter. In the third quarter, after scoring 10 second-half points to finish with 15, Eric Wynn fouled out. North Edgecombe looked as if it had found a weakness, but the close game trudged on deep into the fourth quarter.
“The bench was so important in the energy, the crowd, the everything,” Atkinson said. “For us to bring it home and all these guys step in. When Eric fouled out, I really felt like they felt like they had the game won. I saw their faces when he fouled out, and they were just like, ‘Yeah, we’ve got it.’ And our guys just kept fighting. They kept fighting, they kept fighting and that’s what you’ve got to do.”
Down into the final minute of the game, the whole team contributed. Wilson Prep eventually got up to a four-point lead, and worked the ball around to keep away. But the team didn’t protect the ball enough and a lazy pass led to an answer to bring the score to 68-66. With less then 30 seconds remaining, an inbounds pass from North Edgecombe was picked off by Johnson, who dished it off to Land.
After a pair of made free throws, the win was in hand.
“It felt great man, to come in and shake up the conference, the whole state and the rankings,” Land said with a grin of satisfaction. “It was a big game for us.”
NORTH EDGECOMBE (66)
Sharpe 19, McCrae 10, Edwards 5, Tucker 16, Moss 8, Knight 8.
WILSON PREP (70)
Blackston 17, Land 17, Wynn 15, O. Johnson 9, J. Johnson 4, Bullock 8.
Score by quarters:
North Edgecombe 15 14 24 13 — 66
Wilson Prep 11 19 24 16 — 70