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KENLY — It’s hard to compete in a basketball game when your team scores just seven points.
On Thursday night, the North Johnston varsity girls basketball team held Raleigh Charter (2-4) to the single-digit point total, leading by its defense to a 48-7 victory that advanced the Panthers into the Johnstonian News Holiday Invitational championship game Friday.
Earning a spot in the 6 p.m. title tilt with Creedmoor Falls Lake Academy, North Johnston suffocated the Phoenix on defense, who managed just three baskets.
“Tonight, it started with defense,” head coach Jay Poole said. “The girls did a good job. We worked really hard to keep the ball in front of us, and we’re not the quickest players in the world, so it takes a lot of help from each other and we try to guard your yard so to speak. I think that was a big difference.”
On top of a lot of missed shots by Raleigh Charter, North Johnston stuck to a man-to-man defense for much of the game that didn’t allow much room.
“We did really good,” junior guard Arial Pearce said. “We mostly played man-to-man, so everybody did really good with staying on their man and switching up on screens. We ran it pretty good.”
While Raleigh Charter had a pair or scoreless quarters to bookend the loss, Arial Pearce had her best statistical game of the season so far, exploding for a game-high 22 points to lead the way. With 10 points in the first half, Pearce had already outscored the opposition with 16 minutes left to be played.
“I hustled a lot more and I drove in a lot more because it was a zone,” Pearce said. “Whenever it was open. I got more shots off than I figured I was going to, or that I normally do.”
Outside of a season-high performance from the guard, Poole noted a “balance” on offense that allowed five of seven players on the roster to score. Throughout the game, despite an eventual bruising 41-point lead, the Panthers remained patient, working the ball around until a shot was open.
“They are very unselfish and they will wait and wait until they get the open player and that’s something that I love about this group, that they are very patient,” Poole said. “They’ll wait and keep working and help each other.”
North Johnston began the game on a 14-0 run, giving up its first basket of the game with 5:06 left in the second quarter. With 3:12 left in the quarter, the Phoenix scored their next-to-last basket, finishing the half on another scoring drought that handed the Panthers a 17-point lead at halftime.
When Raleigh Charter returned back on the floor, Katie Vick scored three points off the bench within the first two minutes of the second half. Those points turned out to be the final tally for the Phoneix.
Taking the floor at home again on Friday, North Johnston has a chance to repeat as champions of its holiday tournament.
“I think it’s going to be a really good test, a good challenge,” Poole said.
Score by quarter:
North Johnston 11 10 19 8
Raleigh Charter 0 4 3 0
RALEIGH CHARTER (7)
Ogburn 2, Healey 2, Vick 3.
NORTH JOHNSTON (48)
Pearce 22, Hines 2, Blue 7, Gross 5, Gibson 12.