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Twice in the second half of Tuesday’s opening-round game in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A girls basketball playoffs, Hunt High was forced to weather rallies from visiting Jacksonville Northside.
Each time, the Lady Warriors found an answer from their underclassmen.
Sophomores Brianna Tucker and Imani Sutton combined on the first third-quarter response from Hunt, and a third sophomore, Faith Lucas, served as the fourth-quarter closer.
Lucas bucketed all 13 of her points in the second half, and the Lady Warriors shot 49.1 percent from the field in winning their first playoff game since 2015 with a 61-49 win.
Hunt, the Big East Conference champion and the No. 8 seed among 32 East regional qualifiers, improved to 16-7. Northside, the No. 25 seed and inhabitants of the Coastal Conference, ended its season at 9-13.
Therefore, the Lady Warriors will get a second home game in the postseason Thursday night at 6 when they host No. 9 Cameron Union Pines. The Lady Vikings dispatched No. 24 Topsail 55-41 in another first-round game Tuesday.
Hunt moves on after losing in overtime in 2017’s first round at Northeast Guilford.
“It feels good to show progress,” second-year Hunt head coach Tiffany Parks said. “I’m hoping that we can make it; of course, five more games would be nice. That’s our goal, but we take it one game at a time. We knew this team was going to be tougher than some of the other teams that we’ve seen; they’re just more aggressive.”
The Lady Warriors built a 24-13 second-quarter lead on junior Shaniah Spells’ jumper, but the Lady Monarchs, keyed by guard Eva Holloway, used a 12-3 run to close within two points at the half.
With Hunt moving to a 3-2 zone to defend the wings and 3-point shooters of Northside, Holloway’s floater brought the visitors level at 27. However, a 13-0 spurt followed from Hunt, as Northside turned it over on five consecutive possessions.
Hunt, which shot 26 of 53 from the floor, made 14 of 24 attempts in the second half. Conversely, the Lady Warriors’ defense held Northside to just 2 of 12 shooting in the third quarter as the lead expanded to 42-28. Hunt’s spurt was keyed by six straight points from Tucker, back-to-back steals and layups from Sutton and a jumper from Lucas.
Hunt held the Lady Monarchs to 20-for-62 shooting for a 32.3 percent clip.
“We pushed the ball pretty well with the steals off of the 3-2,” Parks said. “So, that was better.”
Hunt’s lead was 44-31 entering the fourth quarter on a layup from sophomore MarKayla Jones.
But Holloway, who led all scorers with 18 points, maneuvered Northside in position for one final run. Her 3-pointer with 4:16 to play trimmed Hunt’s lead to five. Yet that was as close as the Lady Warriors would allow.
Attacking the basket. Tucker, who finished with 12 points, finished a three-point play with 3:23 to go, making it 49-41 Hunt.
After a Northside basket, Hunt senior Kayla Kent missed the front end of a one-and-one, but redeemed herself by driving in for a layup, giving the Lady Warriors an eight-point cushion. Kent had 10 points for Hunt.
Lucas then took over from there, getting a three-point play off a putback and finishing consecutive layups on the fast break. That extended Hunt’s lead to 58-45, and the Lady Warriors dribbled out much of the remaining clock. Hunt’s lead peaked at 15 on the second of two free throws from Sutton.
“Coach was telling us we had to get it together,” Lucas said of Northside’s final run. “We can’t give them this game, because this is our home game. We have to get in our head that we’ve got to win; we’ve got to move on to the next game.”
“She’s come up from not being able to play in the beginning of the season,” Parks said of Lucas. “And we’ve worked really hard with her to get her eligible. She’s done a really great job in picking up stuff in practice and making sure that she’s on target. I think what’s best with her is that she’s just a tough rebounder for us.”
Hunt’s 3-2 zone induced a 3-of-16 showing from 3-point territory from the Lady Monarchs. Holloway’s trey to make it a five-point game in the fourth was the final time Northside struck from long range. Hunt pulled away despite committing 24 turnovers, three more than Northside.
“We couldn’t turn the corner on them,” Northside head coach Gawaine Johnson said. “We couldn’t get enough stops to get the momentum back. We were prepared for that (3-2 zone), but by that time, we were a little gassed. It was a little surprising at that point, but we were prepared to play today.”
Now, Hunt will now get a second date at home in the playoffs — but even that comes with drawbacks for the architect of the Lady Warriors’ first conference championship since 1985.
“But we have to set up the gym!” Parks mused. “It’s still kind of a pain for us. It’s so much nicer to go somewhere else where you don’t have to set up the gym.”
JAX NORTHSIDE (49)
Burrell 13, Holloway 18, Simmons 3, Constant 2, Mitchell 1, Clark, Lawrence 6, Jones 2, Artist 4.
Griffith 4, Jones 8, Tucker 12, Lucas 13, Kent 10, Spells 2, Smith 4, Sutton 8, Lucas.
Score by quarters:
Northside 11 14 6 18 — 49
Hunt 18 9 17 17 — 61