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GREENSBORO — As teams advance into succeeding rounds of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association basketball playoffs, slow starts are met with less and less tolerance.
The Hunt High varsity girls escaped despite sluggish openings in the first two rounds of their playoff journey. Saturday night at Southeast Guilford, the Lady Warriors repeated the script.
In historical fashion, Hunt was given zero chance to atone.
Southeast Guilford quickly turned a battle of 3-A conference champions into a demolition derby, forcing 30 Hunt turnovers and scoring the game’s first 19 points en route to a 71-15 victory that was never in question from the opening tip. It was the worst postseason loss in school history for the Lady Warriors, who were playing in the third round for just the second time.
Hunt, the No. 7 seed out of the Big East Conference, ended the best season in program history with a 22-4 record. Southeast Guilford, the No. 2 seed from the Mid-Piedmont Conference, improved to 25-3 and will host No. 3 seed Jacksonville in the regional semifinals.
From the outset, the old adage of Murphy’s Law — anything that can go wrong will go wrong — went haywire for the Lady Warriors. Hunt came down after the opening tip and had two open looks at the basket for an early lead. Both missed, and once Southeast Guilford’s Kristen Roberts knocked down a 3-pointer in transition, the convincing rout was on.
“That’s a good team,” Hunt head coach Tiffany Parks said of Southeast Guilford. “We just couldn’t get the press break together. When that happens, people don’t want to play and your best players don’t step up. There’s kind of not much else you can do.”
To say Hunt’s press break was disorganized ranked as quite the understatement from Parks.
Half of the Lady Warriors’ 30 turnovers came in the first quarter as the Lady Falcons took pages from Parks’ first team at Hunt three years ago by way of the press. The turnovers came in buckets, and when the giveaways didn’t lead to immediate layups, any defense thrown at Southeast Guilford was woefully ineffective. Zones were defeated with Roberts’ pinpoint shooting from 3-point range, and man-to-man was broken down with drives to the basket that left the Lady Warriors struggling to keep up.
Hunt’s usual rotations were thrown into flux early by lineup decisions and foul trouble. Junior Bria Griffith and senior Tatiana Smith, two of Hunt’s three players averaging double figures, did not start. Junior Imani Sutton, who was held scoreless, picked up her second personal foul two minutes into play chasing a loose ball.
Griffith, Hunt’s leading scorer, was shuffled into the game once Hunt trailed 9-0 and took a timeout 3:34 into play. By the 2:36 mark of the opening quarter, Hunt junior Dylia Lucas snapped the 19-0 start with a layup. But by that time, Southeast Guilford was already in the bonus and in full control.
“We’ve had some issues with people playing around and not taking the game seriously,” Parks said of her rotations. “And that was obviously apparent tonight. “I had some girls who really got in there and they really hustled. They didn’t care what the score was. Some girls gave it everything they had, and that’s always just a testament to next year, because they were some of the underclassmen. My seniors, Tyra (Rushing) and Shaniah (Spells), really did their best and stepped up. And then, Tatiana came back around ad tried really hard. I think some of them should be really proud of not giving up.”
Rushing’s pair of putbacks were the only second-quarter field goals for Hunt, which trailed 47-9 at the half. The running clock was triggered just 30 seconds into the third quarter.
Through acquired film, the Southeast Guilford scouting report centered around limiting Smith and Griffith.
“I think that’s the best I’ve ever seen them play,” Southeast Guilford head coach Rachel Clark said. “When I woke up this morning, this was not the outcome that I was expecting. We’ve been talking to them about matching their talent with intensity, grit and focusing on defense. And they went out there and executed.”
Roberts had 15 points, all via 3-pointers, to lead Southeast Guilford. Kennedi Simmons and Raven Preston each had 13.
Hunt, which didn’t score in the third quarter, was led by Griffith’s six points. The lead reached as high as 58 before a final layup from Griffith produced the final score.
Careers concluded for Shaniah Thorpe, Smith, Spells and Rushing.
“We’re still proud of our year,” Parks assured. “We still came a long way, and they still did some great basketball. There’s really nothing to be ashamed of. Everybody at the end of the season loses in the playoffs, except for one team. You hope it’s not you, but there’s only one winner every year in the 3-A.”
Griffith 6, McNeill, Tucker 2, Rushing 4, Carlton 1, Norris, Spells, Smith, Sutton, Lucas 2.
SE GUILFORD (71)
Hopkins 2, Simmons 13, K. Roberts 15, S. Roberts 9, McGough 6, Preston 13, Liggins 7, Bethea 2, Cooke 4.
Score by quarters:
Hunt 4 5 0 6 — 15
SE Guilford 25 22 17 7 — 71