Prep Basketball: Salisbury girls 61, Concord 54, OT

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 11, 2009

By David Shaw
CONCORD ó Salisbury girls head coach Andrew Mitchell said facing 3A powerhouse Concord on the road Friday night provided his team with a first test of its mental toughness.
Mitchell liked what he saw after it was over.
Unfazed by letting a lead slip away late in the fourth quarter, the Hornets rebounded to control overtime and post a 61-54 victory in a nonconference battle between state title contenders.
Salisbury (9-0) outscored the Spiders 9-2 in the extra period.
“This was a great win against a really, really good Concord team,” Mitchell said.
“I think we did some things really well, especially our mental toughness. That’s one thing that hadn’t been proven up to this point and tonight I think it was proven. That’s the best thing we did, we stayed in the game mentally.”
Even after Concord (2-4) scored the game’s final eight points in the final 2:45 to force the game into overtime.
“We just wanted to stay patient, stay focused and continue to run our sets,” Mitchell said of his team’s mindset after losing the lead. “We knew we were in great shape and can make plays at any time so we didn’t want to panic.”
The Hornets didn’t panic, and instead did the same things that allowed them to control the game nearly the whole way.
Jessica Helig, who dominated the inside along with Olivia Rankin, won the tip and it led to an Ashia Holmes layup.
Rankin followed with baskets in the paint on the next two Salisbury possessions and Salisbury quickly regained control to stay. Two free throws by Ayanna Holmes with 19 seconds left finally sealed it.
The Spiders, whose previous losses came to 4A powers East Mecklenburg and Hopewell and defending 3A champion Dudley, were playing without starting center Jatzmin Johnson, who is still recovering from a torn ACL. That gave Salisbury the decided edge in the paint, something Mitchell expected.
“We told them that guard-wise they match us pretty good, but they couldn’t take us inside,” Mitchell said.
Helig scored a game-high 18 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, while Rankin added 15 points and seven boards. Rankin scored 14 of her points in the second half and overtime.
“When they come to play, it’s going to be hard to stop either one of them down inside,” Mitchell said.
The dominance inside, particularly on the boards, was one big reason why Salisbury never trailed after taking a 7-6 lead and built a 10-point cushion in the second quarter.
The other was their defense, which limited Concord to just five field goals and 15 points in the first half.
Bubbles Phifer led the way defensively, slowing down Spider guard Nyshia Hammonds, who has committed to play at Charlotte. Hammonds eventually finished with 14 points, but made just two field goals in the game. One of them was part of a three-point play that tied it at 52-52 with 50 seconds left in the fourth. But still Phifer did the job she’d been thinking about for a while.
“Phifer had this game marked on her calendar a long, long time ago and she wasn’t going to let anybody guard Hammonds but herself,” Mitchell said. “She’s one of the best defensive players in the state to me. Without the job she did on Hammonds, we probably would’ve been in big trouble.”
Led by point guard Jhemelia Edwards (16 points), the Spiders made charges in the second half, but Salisbury answered them. When Concord closed to 45-44 in the fourth, Salisbury scored seven straight points and appeared in control with three minutes to play.
But the Hornets didn’t score another point and committed several turnovers, and off-balance shots by Edwards and Hammonds enabled Concord to get even.
“The way they were allowed to play aggressive and beat on us tonight was a good thing because we really hadn’t been pushed or beat like that,” Mitchell said. “We probably should’ve put it away a long time ago, but we have to learn that when they are beating and banging we have to possess the ball a little better.”
Ayanna Holmes added 10 points in the victory as the Hornets handed Concord its first home loss since November of 2007.
In doing so, they earned high praise from Concord head coach Angela Morton.
“They have it all, speed, size, depth, very well-coached, disciplined, feisty,” she said. “They are the total package. I don’t see anybody in 2A touching them. They’re very, very talented and their coach is doing a tremendous job.”
salisbury (61) ó Heilig 18, Rankin 15, Ay. Holmes 10, Phifer 9, As. Holmes 7, Richardson 2, Miller, Woods.
concord (54) ó Edwards 16, Hammonds 14, DeBerry 10, M. Black 8, Briggs 4, Shue 2, Sanders, Lynch, E. Black.
Salisbury 12 13 15 9 ó 61
Concord 10 9 14 19 ó 54