Terra Ceia keeps rolling at Pungo

Published 12:13 am Wednesday, December 20, 2017

BELHAVEN — Terra Ceia won’t slow down. The Knights have endured a coaching change and the graduation of some of the best basketball players to ever come through the school.

PHOTOS: Terra Ceia at Pungo girls, boys basketball

Still, they look more similar than different than the Terra Ceia teams that have dominated in recent years. An 88-71 win at Beaufort County rival Pungo on Tuesday marks the ninth win on the young season.

Freshman Omarian Blount helped the Knights take over in the first quarter. He took on three defenders for a layup that sparked 13 unanswered points. Senior Johannes VanEssendelft — Terra Ceia’s most seasoned player — hopped out in transition early and often. He helped command the pace as the visitors took a 21-11 lead after eight minutes.

“He’s my only senior that’s played before,” Knights coach Stan Allen said. “We’ve got two sophomores and three freshmen. … The ups and downs during the game, sometimes they look really good and sometimes they don’t.”

Terra Ceia’s transition offense proved a tough matchup for Pungo, which was at the end of a stretch of three games in five days. The Raiders planned on attacking the interior. It worked as Nate VanStaalduinen and Ben Simmons were able to get looks under the basket.

“We knew, eventually, they were going to close in on us,” Pungo coach Mart Benson said. “We have some 3-point shooters of our own. That was our plan: to work it inside until they closed in, and then kick it out.”

That spread things out for Pungo’s perimeter shooters. Jacob Alligood drained a pair of 3-pointers between the end of the second and beginning of the third.

However, Blount also heated up from behind the arc. He hit a trio of 3s, including a dead-on look that capped off a 12-3 surge to begin the second half.

Pungo center Cameron Howell hoists up a shot in the paint against Terra Ceia.

Pungo wouldn’t go down easily, though. The Raiders, trailing by 20 halfway through the third, rallied with 14-straight points to end the period. Chandler Cuthrell had a pair of triples, and VanStaalduinen thrived inside to close the gap to eight, 52-44.

“It’s a rivalry game. I told the boys that this is their court and to never give up,” Benson said. “It was patience and working the ball inside some more. I told them we’re not going to get back into this game on a 20-0 run. We’re going to get back into it slowly. I think that’s what we did, but honestly, we just ran out of gas.”

VanEssendelft scored Terra Ceia’s first six points of the fourth to help his side reclaim its double-digit lead. The Knights kept Pungo at arm’s length. They were near perfect at the free-throw line to prevent any comeback bid by the home team.

“They practice it every day. These guys love basketball,” Allen said.

The Knights improved to 9-1 with their only loss coming against Ocracoke. They’ll return to action Jan. 5 at Northeast Academy. Pungo will look to snap its skid at Lawrence Academy on the same day.