RALEIGH — The Athens Drive and Fuquay-Varina basketball teams ended their exam week with a Thursday night quadruple header that pitted three teams who were tied for last place in the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference.
In a fight to get out of the conference cellar, the Athens Drive boys defeated Fuquay-Varina 61-54.
The only team to not enter the night in last place was Athens Drive’s girls. They had no trouble with Fuquay-Varina in a 63-27 win.
“There’s a lot of pressure being at the top,” Jaguars girls coach Dayna Jordan said. “But it’s great. We played some challenging teams non-conference to prepare us for conference play.”
Fuquay-Varina’s girls (4-11, 0-6) jumped out to a 5-0 lead and were keeping Athens Drive’s Grace Hunter out of the lane. But when Hunter started assisting to others, everything else opened up for the Jags (10-5, 5-1).
Athens led 27-12 at halftime and never looked back as Hunter had 28 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks and five assists. Four teammates – Gabby Respess, Kayla Aycock, Briana McCrimmon and Miah Faggart – had at least six points.
Fuquay had a balanced effort with only five girls scoring and none with more than six points.
“We need to believe in ourselves more than they’re doing now,” said first-year Fuquay girls coach Gail Siemer. “We made some young mistakes tonight.”
The joy of a boys conference win was sweet relief for Athens Drive’s players and students, who rushed the court after the close win.
When the lead cut down to one possession on multiple occasions, Athens went to Isaiah Jones for an answer.
The junior had a game-high 22 points.
“We had to get that monkey off our back,” Jones said. “It was wonderful, man. ... Anything can happen when you play hard.”
Two breakaway dunks from Lawrence Christmas for Athens in the fourth quarter both came at times when the Bengals were six points or closer to the lead.
“We’ve had a lot of chances to get wins, it just came down to executing what coach (Robert Clemons) drew up for us,” Christmas said. “We’re not done yet, though. This is just one (game).”
After struggling for the first two quarters, Fuquay (2-13, 0-6) sliced into the Athens (2-14, 1-5) lead thanks to four reserves – Nate Oates, Brenton Hardy, Trey Terry and Grettori Kersey – and Dedric Byrd posing problems in a full-court press.
They cut the lead to three with just 27.3 seconds to go.
If there was a silver lining for first-year head coach Danny Strong’s Bengals, it’s that his team is showing fight.
“They have heart. They’re not afraid,” Strong said. “We’re into building that winning mentality.”
Byrd had a team-high 16 points.
Blake: 919-460-2606; Twitter: @JMBpreps