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Knight soaking up state experience

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North Pitt's head coach William Knight talks to players during a timeout during their game against Kinston on March 3, 2018 at Minges Coliseum. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By JORDAN ANDERS
The Daily Reflector

Monday, March 5, 2018

DURHAM — North Pitt girls’ basketball coach William Knight was so ready to get championship week started Monday, he was up at 4 a.m.

A few hours later, he joined the 15 other coaches who will lead their teams in quests for state titles this weekend in the annual NCHSAA title week press conference at the DoubleTree RTP in Durham.

The East Regional champion Panthers are gunning for their third state championship in school history and second in the last three seasons. They will battle West champion North Wilkes at noon on Saturday at the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill.

Knight, who is in his second year at NP, is a first-time state finalist coach and admitted to spending Monday morning taking in the gravity of the event.

“It’s an experience, but it’s been fun,” said Knight, who is 46-10 as coach of the Panthers. “Just thinking about the players and what they’ve gone through this year, and no one expecting us to be this far, but the way the players have jelled at this time of the year and their competitiveness, their will not to lose, it’s been amazing.”

North Pitt’s run through the playoffs may have seemed a bit unlikely a couple of weeks ago following an ugly 75-61 loss to Farmville Central in the semifinals of the Eastern Plains 2-A Conference tournament. It was the second straight year the Panthers had been tripped up by the Jaguars in the tournament, and last year’s defeat was a prelude to a second-round exit from the state playoffs.

This year, NP bounced back from that loss to storm through the postseason, winning the regional championship over top seed Kinston on Saturday at Minges Coliseum, topping the Vikings 71-51 behind a 41-point performance from senior guard Nyjanique Langley.

“I guess the Farmville loss was a blessing in disguise,” Knight said. “That was a hard loss for all of us. It woke us up and it just fueled the fire for us. After the tournament, the season was dedicated to Nyjanique and (fellow senior) Alyssa Kerns. We just had a come-to-Jesus meeting after that loss and made up our minds the rest of the season was going to be for them.

“We had six games to win, and so far we’re on the right path.”

The Panthers are facing a North Wilkes program that has never been to the state finals. North Pitt has just two players who actually played in their championship win over East Davidson two seasons ago — Langley, who had a 20-point, 10-rebound double-double and was the game’s MVP, and guard Casandra Watson.

This week is also uncharted territory for Knight and his staff, who didn’t take over at NP until shortly after then-interim coach Yolanda Bowden led the Panthers to that 2016 title. That means Monday morning was still about soaking in the enormity of the team’s accomplishment thus far.

But only for a short while, because there is still work to be done.

“This is still part of soaking it in,” Knight said. “We can’t lose our focus. We’ve still got to get back in the gym and still got to play one more game. ... To be honest with you, I didn’t have a chance and I don’t want to take any time (to reflect) until after Saturday. Hopefully when the players get in for practice, we’ll sit down and reminisce a little bit and get back to work.”

Tickets

Advance tickets for the championship game are being sold at North Pitt for $14 beginning today.

They can also be purchased at the door Saturday or online at www.nchsaa.org/sports/basketball for $15.

Contact Jordan Anders at janders@reflector.com, 252-329-9594 and follow @ReflectorJordan on Twitter.

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