Two PAC-6 4A boys’ basketball teams played up to their tightly bunched area rankings as No. 5 Northern Durham defeated No. 6 East Chapel Hill 62-56 Tuesday in the nightcap of a doubleheader.
The only element missing was a larger crowd worthy of the matchup that saw Northern Durham’s Tahj Small scored 24 points and East Chapel Hill’s Carter Collins total 32.
“We usually don’t get a big crowd for East Chapel Hill,” Knights coach Ronnie Russell said. “The fans come out for the other games. We’re young team, but we have a lot of assets. We’re slowly putting together our pieces to the puzzle.”
The showdown was crucial to the conference race with both teams having suffered an early-season league loss. Northern Durham improved to 11-2 overall and 2-1 in the PAC-6 4A. The Wildcats dropped to 11-2 and 2-2.
Among those pieces Russell cited is a variety of ways to score. Smith, a 6-foot-5 junior, sank three 3-pointers during the second quarter to spark the Knights to a 31-24 halftime lead after only a 12-10 advantage at the end of the first quarter.
When East Chapel Hill tightened its defense on Small, he fed teammates. Timothy Bell scored 11 second-half points to finish with 15. Eric Stokes scored eight of his 10 during the second half.
“We can score from any place on the court,” Small said. “We like to move the ball to get open shots. We don’t depend on one person to score. I liked how we took the time get good shots.”
East Chapel Hill narrowed the deficit to 53-52 with 2 minutes, 52 seconds left, but Small stole the ball and fed Stokes, who was fouled and subsequently hit two free throws.
Collins responded with a driving scoop layup to make it 54-53, but Northern Durham answered again when Bell converted a three-point play.
“It was the competitive game that I expected,” Wildcats coach Ray Hartsfield said. “We made a run, but we couldn’t get over the hump. We needed a stop or crucial jump shot to take the lead and get into their heads.”
Northern Durham senior Rhianna Council scored 39 points to lead the Knights to a 62-49 victory. She scored eight points unanswered midway through the second quarter to turn a 21-19 deficit into a 27-21 lead. Three of the scores were fast breaks and the fourth a drive to the lane as she showed touch around the basket.
“You have to focus on the rim and not worry about the contact,” Council said. “I’ve been playing basketball since I was 4 years old and I work hard.”
Northern Durham won its fifth straight game to improve to 5-9 overall and 2-3 in PAC-6 4A play. East Chapel Hill dropped to 7-5 and 1-3.
Council’s total overcame 47 combined points from Ali Cyr-Scully (26) and T.J. Johnson (21). Aquira McIntyre joined Council in double figures with 11 points.