Knights fall 50-47 to Walnut Grove in first round of state playoffs

Senior guard Albert Taylor brings the ball up the court in the first round of the state playoffs against Walnut Grove. The Knights lost 50-47.

Cole Parker

Senior guard Albert Taylor brings the ball up the court in the first round of the state playoffs against Walnut Grove. The Knights lost 50-47.

William Palmer and William Randall

Finishing the regular season with a record of just 5-16, expectations were low in the postseason for the Knights’ boys basketball team. However, after three upset wins and a close loss in the region championship game versus Chapel Hill, the team found themselves as the two-seed in the state playoffs facing off against Walnut Grove tonight at home.

Walnut Grove sported a record with over 20 wins before their contest with the Knights. However, senior point guard Albert Taylor wasn’t afraid of that. He felt that the team was actually very beatable, but the Knights fell by a score of 50-47.

“Honestly, it was a very winnable game for us,” Taylor said. “Both teams fought hard, but they made some plays down the stretch. We made some plays down the stretch too, but we made the most mistakes at the end, and that shows in the final score.”

The first half was a close contest, ending with the Knights up by three points, leading 23-20. For the entire duration of the game neither team led by more than five points. However, things started to fall apart for the Knights in the second half, particularly in the last few minutes of the game.

“We didn’t finish as well as we normally did,” head coach Patrick Johnson said. “They did a good job of keeping us out of the paint where we’re usually at our best. They had good perimeter defense and we didn’t do a great job of getting to the spots and we settled for some tougher shots than we usually have.” 

A lack of made shots hit the Knights hard in the final few moments of regulation. Many of their shots were long two-point jump shots, and they were unable to get many open shots as the Walnut Grove defense contested nearly everything they could attempt. To seal the win for Walnut Grove, their point guard made a three-pointer in the final moments of the game, a crushing blow for Midtown.

“When you get in the last two minutes whether you’re up or down, you really want to focus on getting the shots you want on offense and then just trying to avoid giving them anything easy plays on defense,” Johnson said. “They hit a big three right at the end that we defended pretty well but, but that’s one of their best shooters, and that’s hard to stop.”

Junior forward Terez Wilkins said that the change in energy during the second half contributed to the lead change for the Knights, and eventually led to the lapses in defense that allowed Walnut Grove to take the lead. Before these lapses, fourth-quarter layups from junior guard Dylan Gustafson and Wilkins created a promising potential outcome for the Knights by putting them ahead of Walnut Grove by three points at one point.

“During the game, what changed for us that caused us to lose was the energy,” Wilkins said. “When we started, we were excited and high on the crowd’s energy and feeling ourselves, but when we started to miss shots and struggle the energy came down and that only made it worse.”

Despite the loss, the team was never expected to make it this far into the postseason considering their regular season record, and Wilkins was proud of the team basketball that was played against a difficult opponent in the high-stakes contest, but knew that without the ability for their team to put consistent points on the board, the game would slip away from them.

“We played well together,” Wilkins said. “That’s something I can say for sure. We played good defense together, but we just didn’t see each other enough on the court. We weren’t passing the ball enough as a team and because of that we weren’t taking good shots as a team.”

Taylor agreed that the team’s shot selection and ability to make those shots faltered tonight.

“The difference maker for us was just making shots,” Taylor said. “We missed the whole lot of shots. Not just me, but I think just across the board. We make more shots, and we win the game. It sounds obvious, because it is, but it didn’t work out tonight, but when it comes down to it, it’s just that simple.”

Johnson agreed with his players that despite the disappointment of the loss, sometimes basketball can be a tough sport, and your team’s shots may not go in when the competition’s shots do. That inevitably led to the Knights’ loss tonight, according to Johnson. The team finished the season 8-18, and a first-round state playoff exit.

“It sometimes comes down to just who’s able to get the shot they want down the stretch and who’s able to hit shots,” Johnson said. “They got good shots for their best shooters, we missed a couple opportunities. I’ll take that any day other than not coming out ready or not competing as hard as they can or stuff like that. At the end of the day, that’s just basketball.”