SP Lady Tiger basketball
By Brad Greer
Despite only two first-half points from leading scorer Sabrina Townsend, South Panola head coach Ralph Stallings felt at ease entering halftime against Tupelo in Columbus Friday night.
There was no need to worry as the rest of the Lady Tigers picked up the slack until Townsend exploded for 13 points in the second half as South Panola held off a three point barrage by the Golden Wave to capture the District 2-5A championship 55-42 to advance to the North 5A playoffs where they hosted Horn Lake Monday night.
Vetorra Cole, along with sophomores Montieth Brewer and Chasity Kearney, combined for 19 points in the first half as South Panola took a 25-22 lead into the locker room.
“I felt comfortable at halftime. I knew Tupelo was shooting the ball well from outside the three-point line, but that was only one girl and that was really all the scoring they had in the first half,” said Stallings. “When we went to our motion offense, I think we found a little niche in their armor and we were basically scoring anytime we wanted to. We were not hitting some shots, but I felt like we would in the second half.“
South Panola, (21-6) outscored the Wave 12-6 in the the third period to take a 37- 28 lead into the final eight minutes. Tupelo’s Maggie McFerrin was a scoring machine for the Lady Wave as the senior connected on nine – of – 19 shots from beyond the arch to lead all scorers with 29 points.
Brewer’s bucket and free throw gave the Tigers a 42-33 lead with 4:51 remaining only to have McFerrin drill consecutive three-pointers less than a minute later to cut the Tiger lead to 44-39.
Townsend then hit perhaps her biggest shot of the game on the Tigers’ next possession as she drove into the lane and put up two points while getting fouled on the play. The senior guard then knocked down one of her nine straight free throws in the second half to give South Panola a 47-39 lead they would never relinquish.
“I was struggling a little bit in the first half, but in the second half I penetrated more to the goal and forced them to foul me. I knew my teammates would pick up the slack in the first half until I got things going. I did not want this to be my last game. We want to play one more game at home,” said Townsend.
Tupelo (14-15), jumped out to a 9-2 lead to start the game on a pair of tres by McFerrin, but South Panola withstood the quick punch by closing the gap to 14-9 on Brewer’s three-point play at the end of the first period.
The Wave then scored the next six points on two more three-pointers by Mcferrin to expand the lead to 20-11 early in the second quarter, but the Tigers responded with a 6-0 run of their own capped off by Cole’s runner in the lane. The junior then stole a pass and a lay up for two points gave South Panola its first lead at 21-20 with less than a minute to play.
“We knew they were going to try and stop Sabrina so somebody had to step up make some key shots,” said Kearney who registered 13 points on the night. “They were mostly an outside shooting team so we knew there was a mismatch on the inside and we took to it them. The key tonight was getting a hand in their face when they shot from the outside. The first half we were not doing that, but we put a lot of pressure on them in the second half.”
Tupelo hit 34 percent (10-of-29) of their three-point shots in the game while hitting 36 percent overall on the night. The Wave did not make a trip to the free throw line in the contest. South Panola meanwhile hit 53 percent (21-of-39) field goal percentage and was 13-for- 17 at the free throw line. The Tigers turned the ball over 13 times, 11 of those coming in the second half, while the Wave had 11 turnovers.
Cole followed Townsend and Kearney in the scoring column with 12 points while Brewer added 11 and Essie Thomas accounted for four points to round out the scoring.
The Lady Tigers faced Horn Lake in the opening round of the North Half tournament Monday night but the score was not available at press time.
The winner will advance to the second round to take on the winner of the Greenville-Weston/Northwest Ranin game on Friday at either Tupelo or Olive Branch, depending on which team won Monday night.