The Northwestern girls used a 10-point swing during the third-quarter spurt to blow open a close contest and eventually pulled away from South Pointe, 56-40, in the opening-round of the girls Class-AAAA playoff action at the Northwestern gymnasium on Tuesday.
The Stallions, who fell twice by double-digits to the Trojans during the regular season, appeared ready to pull the upset.
Having trailed by 15 late in the second quarter, South Pointe ended the half with seven unanswered points. That momentum continued at the start of the third by scoring 10 of the first 14 points to trim the deficit to two, 32-30.
South Pointe (10-12) actually had two opportunities to tie at the foul line, but failed to convert on both attempts. But then, Northwestern began to clamp down defensively. Led by forward Mariah McCoy, the Trojans capitalized on a series of turnovers and reeled off 10 of the next 11 points.
What happened is that we got caught sleep walking in the second quarter, and that carried over into the third quarter, Northwestern coach John Bramlett said. We lost our focus, but were able to recover it.
We began making layups which were being missed in the first quarter and picked it up defensively and on the boards.
Having already scored a pair of wins over the Stallions, Bramlett braced his team for a tougher challenge in the playoffs.
We just played them last week, he said. They are a good team that does a good job at shooting the ball. I told our girls before the game that this was going to be tough.
South Pointe coach Brett Childers applauded his girls for a solid effort against the Region 3-AAAA regular-season champs. However, he said that having to fight back from an early deficit appeared to take too much physically out of his players.
We had to really make a push to get back into it and that took a toll on us, Childers said. Northwestern has a big front line and they were able to get out in transition, after grabbing clutch rebounds and forcing turnovers.
Junior guard Lindsey Bradley went on a shooting tear during the South Pointe comeback which began late in the second.
Trailing 28-13, the Stallions began to gain offensive momentum when Cameron Davis scored after grabbing an offensive rebound, and Denisha Hall connected with a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 10 with 1:19 remaining before the half.
Bradley sank a jumper to pull South Pointe within eight, 28-20, at halftime.
The Stallions senior continued with the hot hand, sinking two 3-pointers to open the third quarter, and adding another score following an offensive rebound. Ashley Jaggers followed with another, cutting the deficit to 32-30.
After both teams traded single free throws, Northwestern used its height advantage to score two interior hoops from Sha'Shay Alexander and Natalie Henderson, respectively. Mariah McCoy sank a free throw and followed that with a jumper.
Henderson then triggered another Northwestern scoring opportunity with a block shot, which led to Aubriana Thompson getting fouled on a fast-break attempt. She made both free throws, and Henderson closed out the quarter with another made free-throw attempt, putting the Trojans ahead 43-31.
South Pointe continued to try to hang with perimeter shooting as Kyra Currence swished a three-point jumper to cut the deficit to 45-34. However, Northwestern methodically used a patient offense for good shot attempts and that resulted in an 11-3 spurt to put the contest out of reach late in the fourth.
Northwestern (20-2) will host J.L. Mann on Friday in second-round action. J.L. Mann, out of Greenville, defeated Spartanburg.
Northwestern 56, South Pointe 40
Northwestern Aubriana Thompson 11, Cayse Branyon 6, Natalie Henderson 5, Sha'Shay Alexander 13, London Minor 4, Paige Samuelson 2, Mariah McCoy 13, Courtney Cunningham-Heath 2.
South Pointe Denisha Hall 8, Lindsay Bradley 15, Kyra Currence 3, Deiona Davis 2, Ashley Jaggers 7, Cameron Davis 2, Shay Robinson 3.
3-pointers Northwestern 1 (McCoy), South Pointe 7 (Bradley 3, Hall 2, Currence 1, Jaggers 1). Team fouls Northwestern 15, South Pointe 19. Fouled out None.