Knights’ Walden scores 1,000th point in immaculate 1st period vs. Wolves

Thanks for reading Chatham County’s leading news source! Making high quality community journalism isn’t free — please consider supporting our journalism by subscribing to the News + Record today.

Unlimited Digital Access begins at $4.67/month

Print + Digital begins at $6.58/month

Posted

SILER CITY — Tamaya Walden was on the brink of history. And everyone knew it.

Entering last Tuesday’s showdown with conference foe Woods Charter — which Chatham Charter won, 71-32 — the Knights’ junior guard needed just 12 points to secure a spot in the record books.

She hit that mark before the game’s first foul was called.

With 2:45 to play in the first quarter, senior guard Mackenzie Brooks picked the pocket of Wolves sophomore Lexi Smollen and pushed the ball to Walden, who was streaking down the middle of the court.

Walden was being matched step-for-step by Wolves junior Lucy Miller, but hustled toward the right side of the paint and forced up a shot from just below the block while drawing contact from Miller’s body.

The shot rolled around the rim and fell in as the official’s whistle blew.

There they were — career points number 1,000 and 1,001.

Walden was officially the third 1,000-point scorer in Chatham Charter history.

“(My mindset) was that I’m going to score 12 points before the end of the first quarter,” Walden said after the game with a smile of relief washing over her face, holding a bouquet of flowers given to her by her teammates. “I’ve been thinking about it all week, having anxiety, but I just pushed myself through it.”

Walden not only scored 13 of her team’s first 17 points — including the first 11 — to hit the milestone, but also took nine of the Knights’ first 16 shots.

Getting to 1,000 points was undoubtedly on her mind.

And with each 3-pointer splashed and each basket hit, fans in the crowd mumbled to one another about how many more points she needed.

From 12 to 9 to 6 to 4 to just 1, the crowd waited in anticipation as Walden inched closer to a goal she set for herself as early as her freshman season.

As she sat at 999 career points, Walden missed a couple of open 3-pointers in a row, growing the suspense of the moment.

Then, her chance came as she went 1-on-1 with Miller in transition.

When the shot fell, Walden shrank toward the ground and exploded with a yell as her teammates came to congratulate her.

It was a sudden rush of emotions ranging from excitement to flat-out relief.

“I wanted to run up in the stands,” Walden said of her history-making moment, laughing, “but I just told myself to stay on the court.”

It took Walden 64 games to surpass 1,000 career points, doing so as a junior with essentially 2 ½ seasons under her belt — given that in last year’s COVID-shortened season, she played just 11 games — a major accomplishment for a player who has continued to improve year after year.

“Once I saw myself get better each year, I noticed that my points-per-game were getting higher, so I was hoping I could reach (the 1,000-point mark) by my sophomore year, but then COVID affected it,” Walden said. “But I got it my junior year, so I’m happy with that.”

This season has been a breakout one for Walden, who is averaging 22.5 points per game, up nearly 10 points from her previous high of 13.1 PPG during her freshman year.

She’s been an offensive powerhouse this season, scoring more than 20 points in 15 of her team’s 22 games, including three games with at least 30 points — the first season of her career in which she has even a single 30-point game.

By night’s end, Walden posted 31 points against the Wolves on 11-of-19 shooting (58%), nearly matching her career-high (34), which included a career-high six 3-pointers as she shot 60% from behind the arc.

Better yet, she was a bucket away from outscoring the entire Wolves team (32 points total).

“When she’s playing the way she played tonight, we can about play with anybody,” Knights Head Coach Jeff Patterson said after the win. “When she’s on, she can pull up 2-3 feet behind the line. … She’s been the glue for us.”

With Walden playing the way she was — draining four 3-pointers en route to a 17-point opening period — the Wolves never really stood a chance.

Smollen, a standout sophomore for the Wolves in her first true season, was brilliant at times, including the opening possession that saw her take a defensive rebound coast-to-coast as she sliced down the left portion of the lane to score a textbook transition layup and put the Wolves up, 2-0.

But the Knights were on a different level, smashing their in-county rivals in the first quarter, 27-7, behind Walden’s offensive barrage and senior Alexis Baldwin’s play in the paint.

All night long, it was obvious the Knights were having a blast — laughing, smiling and cheering whenever a teammate scored, drew a foul or came up with a steal.

At one point, Walden dished an assist down low to Baldwin with a pass from well behind the 3-point line and swiftly began backpeddling down the court, screaming in jubilation after Baldwin completed the assist with a layup.

On an evening that also doubled as senior night for Baldwin and Brooks, the team’s only upperclassmen, the Knights showed time and time again just how tight-knit they are, an important element needed to make a deep playoff run.

“Me and my team, we’re just really close, and today was a special day for all of us, for the seniors, everybody was so excited,” Walden said. “Other than the anxiety and just being happy for each other, we just came together to win this game. … I really do love (the seniors). They’re like my closest friends.”

By halftime, the Knights had amassed a 44-15 lead — one which would have been larger had it not been for the team’s six missed free throws in the second quarter — and that was pretty much all she wrote.

Patterson sat his starters for most of the fourth quarter, giving way to a late Wolves run, which helped shrink the gap to just under 40 points.

Chatham Charter’s 39-point victory marked the second time this season that the Knights have beaten the Wolves by 30-plus, with the first time coming in a road win, 63-30, on Feb. 2.

The Wolves, who started the season 6-0, have sense faltered a little as they sit with a 4-4 record in the Central Tar Heel 1A conference (11-5 overall).

Though they’ll have a shot to redeem themselves — and claim a postseason spot — depending on their play in the conference tournament this week.

The Knights, on the other hand, have won six conference games in a row, tying them with the Clover Garden Grizzlies for the regular-season Central Tar Heel 1A title (7-1 record).

“That was probably one of the best all-around games we’ve played,” Patterson said. “We have been trying to get them to play like this from day one. It seems like now, toward the end of the season, they’re buying in, which could be a good thing to get them ready for the conference tournament.”

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

Comments

No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here