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KENLY — Surviving a two-point scare midway through the fourth quarter, the North Johnston boys basketball team stayed just ahead of Raleigh Charter in the end to escape with a 73-64 victory on Thursday night.
“The big thing is that we needed a win,” head coach Chris Batten said after a victory that snapped a losing skid. “That’s what I told them in the locker room. I wasn’t going to go in and talk about anything we needed to do differently, we were just going to be happy to get a win. And we needed it. We played hard, we competed, but we needed to get back over the hump and get in the win column.”
With the win, the Panthers (2-6) ended a four-game losing streak and started the Johnstonian News Holiday Invitational on a positive note. The team lost six of its first seven games on the season, capturing a win over Rosewood in early December, and will look toward the championship Friday night, taking on the Eagles once again at 7:30 p.m.
To earn a spot in the title matchup, North Johnston rebounded from a 6-0 deficit early to take the lead for good midway through the first quarter. Running a halfcourt trap at crucial moments, the Panthers kept the pressure on.
Though a lead was in hand, the advantage fluctuated throughout the game. Midway through the second half, the lead grew into the teens, then a few minutes later, the Phoenix had narrowed the margin to two points and threatened to capture their first victory over the season.
In the end, North Johnston was buoyed by the scoring power of senior RaKuan Rodrigues. With a nearly evenly-matched performance across both halves, Rodrigues finished with a team-high 16 points, and would have had nearly 30 if not for shooting troubles at the free-throw line.
“Last year, I couldn’t make a single free throw,” Rodrigues said. “It got a little bit better, but I’ve got to do better, I’ve got to grind more.”
Though it wasn’t perfect, the Panthers didn’t dwell on the mistakes that they made after the game. It took a team effort, with 10 North Johnston players scoring, to earn the kind of win the team has been searching for in the early season.
North Johnston will play Rosewood for the third time this season with its second-straight Johnstonian News Holiday Invitational title on the line.
Rodrigues said the victory gives the team everything it needs to turn the corner.
“We’ve been struggling, aggravating at practice,” he said. “I feel like things are going to be better now.”
RALEIGH CHARTER (64)
Meissner 6, Brown 18, Agrawal 3, Hannon 16, Orton 8, Smith 4, Martin 8, King 1.
NORTH JOHNSTON (73)
Rodrigues 16, Pitts 11, Vann 10, Lucas 4, Wallace 10, York 5, Tinsley 7, Parrish 6, Howell 2, Coats 2.