CHERRYVILLEâ€”North Lincolnâ€™s Kayla Alexander may only be a freshman, but she does not play like a freshman in crunch time.
Alexander hit a 3-pointer from the deep corner with two minutes left Friday night, giving the Lady Knights the lead for good in a come-from-behind 38-35 upset of Southern Foothills 1A Conference co-leader Cherryville.
The win, arguably the most impressive of the season for North Lincoln, left the Lady Knights (10-10, 5-3) a game out of first place heading into the stretch run of the conference race. Cherryville, which entered the game tied with Hendersonville for the top spot, slipped to 6-3 in the conference (16-4 overall).
The Lady Knights trailed 32-31 when Alexander broke free off a screen from Sara McCall on the right wing and knocked in the go-ahead basket.
After it got the lead, North Lincoln went to its stall offense and made enough free throws to hold off the Lady Ironmen.
Alyssa Loweâ€™s free throw with 7.8 seconds left gave North Lincoln a 38-35 lead. On its final possession, Cherryville lost valuable seconds getting the ball into the frontcourt against the North Lincoln pressure, and Meredith Wooster was forced to put a desperation 30-footer that bounced harmlessly off the backboard at the buzzer.
Alexander finished with 10 points for the Lady Knights, and Lowe, an East Gaston transfer, topped the North Lincoln scoring with 12.
â€œShe will put it up. She is not afraid,â€ North Lincoln coach Mark Lackey said of Alexander. â€œSara McCall set a great screen, and (Kayla) was wide open and knocked it down.â€
Lackey said the extra attention he paid to defense in practice paid off.
â€œWe concentrated real hard on defense, and I think it showed. We just played great defense. We have been playing a lot better lately, so I felt like we had a chance,â€ he said.
What made the win more impressive was that it happened in Nixon Gym, always a difficult environment for an opposing team.
â€œAny time you win in Cherryville, whether it is girls or boys, you have done something. This place has a lot of tradition. There has been a lot of good basketball played here,â€ said Lackey, who visited Nixon Gym as a player during his high school days at West Lincoln in the 1980s.
North Lincoln trailed by nine points in the early minutes of the third quarter, but refused to be put away. The Lady Knights cut the lead to two, 30-28, heading into the final eight minute session, setting the stage for Alexander.
Ebone Johnson scored 17 points for Cherryville, and Wooster had 10.
Cherryville played with senior point guard Angie Walls on the sideline with a knee injury. Walls injured her right knee earlier in the week against Hendersonville, and the extent of the damage is not known.
North Lincoln 8 8 12 10-38
Cherryville 6 11 13 5-35
KNIGHTS: Lowe 12, Farris 6, Alexander 10, Smith 6, Morgan 4.
IRONMEN: Wooster 10, Valentine 3, Farnsworth 5, Johnson 17.
Cherryville 83, North Lincoln 66â€”The Knights played Cherryville on even terms in the first quarter, but the Ironmen went on a 31-13 run in the second period to take control.
Cherryville, which won its fifth straight conference game, shot 70 percent (12-for-17) in the second quarter and forced North Lincoln into seven turnovers with its half-court pressure. The turnovers led to four fastbreak layups and helped to account for the Ironmenâ€™s shooting accuracy.
Antonio Griggs scored 13 of his 17 points during the stretch, including a 3-point from the deep corner just before the halftime buzzer, sending the Ironmen into the locker room with a 46-32 cushion.
It was also in the second quarter that 6-6 senior Brandon Thomas began to assert himself inside. Thomas, who was 0-for-4 in the first period, scored nine points in the 31-point flurry, including two baskets on putbacks.
North Lincoln (8-12, 5-3) never came close to making a run in the second half.
For Cherryville (14-6, 6-3), Thomas continued to dominate in the paint and finished with 27 points. Justin Johnson, a 6-6 freshman, added 12 points on 6-for-7 shooting and had three crowd-pleasing dunks.
Alex Loftin had 15 points for the Knights, followed by Trishtan Johnson and Payton Brady with 14 each.
North Lincoln 19 13 12 22-66
Cherryville 15 31 21 16-83
KNIGHTS: L. Johnson 4, T. Johnson 14, Bethea 10, Brady 14, Loftin 15, Smith 7, Whiteside 2.
IRONMEN: Hart 5, K. Johnson 9, Griggs 17, Lovelace 2, J.Johnson 12, Thomas 27, Alexander 7, Kendrick 2, Feemster 2.
by Mike Powell