West girls 56, Lexington 43
By Mike London
MOUNT ULLA — West Rowan sophomore Shay Steele lofted an airball on a free throw — wide left by a foot — glanced over at her team’s bench and giggled.
“Well, I was winded and we were all a little rusty,” Steele explained with a smile. “We’ve just been away from basketball for a while.”
Rust and all, the 6-foot-2 Steele was still good enough to nearly post another triple-double. She had 18 points, 11 rebounds and nine blocks and dominated the second half as the Falcons beat visiting Lexington 56-43 in a non-conference Martin Luther King Day contest.
West senior Ayana Avery, closing in on the school’s all-time scoring record, swished six 3-pointers and scored 20 points.
Jessica Lazenby scored 14 points while Jasmine Carter had 10 for the Yellow Jackets.
Due to weather issues, West (11-4) hadn’t been on the hardwood since Jan. 6 while the Yellow Jackets (6-6) hadn’t been in action since Jan. 5.
“We’ve had one practice since the last time we’ve played,” West coach Erich Epps said. “I’ve never had a situation like this in the middle of a basketball season.”
Carter scored six points in the first quarter to keep Lexington close. D’Necia Osborne’s tenacious defense frustrated an ice-cold Avery in the second quarter, and West staggered to halftime with a precarious 24-22 lead.
“We’re a good team when we can get out in transition,” Epps said. “But when we have to play a halfcourt game, we’re not patient enough. When Ayana’s shots aren’t falling, it’s really hard for us to score.”
The opening minute of the second half was the turning point. Steele scored after an offensive board, rejected a shot by Carter and scored again on a nice feed by Avery.
Suddenly, West was ahead by six, and Lexington coach Lamont Johnson was yelling for a timeout.
“Our third quarters have been terrible in a lot of games — like we just forget all the good things we did in the first half,” Johnson said.
With Steele getting very active, the Falcons played solid man-to-man defense in the third quarter and took control.
That’s been West’s pattern most of the season. Shaky first half. Solid second half.
Steele ruled her key individual matchup with Carter, Lexington’s star, in the third quarter, putting up eight points and five boards in the quarter while holding Carter to a single bucket.
“I denied her the ball and tried to make it hard for them to lob the ball in to her,” Steele said. “I was just able to produce a lot more in the second half than the first half.”
West led by 10 after three quarters and bumped its lead to 15 points in the early stages of the fourth quarter on a bucket by freshman Nycieko Dixon.
Lexington made a couple of attempts to get back into it, but Avery nailed three consecutive 3-pointers in a two-minute span to end any possibility of a comeback.
“Avery shocked me with how far out she was shooting the ball,” Johnson said. “That girl can shoot.”
West has lost twice to Carson and twice to Salisbury, but it’s handled everyone else so far.
“Beating Lexington is a good win,” Epps said. “They’re athletic and very much improved over last year.”
NOTES: Avery, headed to Radford, has 1,748 points in her career. … Steele had five blocks in the fourth quarter. … Brittney Barber and Alison Sobataka turned in strong defensive games for West. … Lexington is home against Salisbury, ranked No. 1 in 2A, in a makeup game tonight.
LEXINGTON (43) — Lazenby 14, Carter 10, Kelly 8, Osborne 6, Fowler 4, Reid 1, Jones.
WEST ROWAN (56) — Avery 20, Steele 18, Dixon 11, Barber 4, Parker 2, Caldwell 1, Ball, Watson, Dutton, Sobataka.
Lexington 10 12 7 14 — 43
W. Rowan 13 11 15 17 — 56