High school basketball: Big third quarter lifts Hornets into regional final

Published 10:24 pm Tuesday, March 1, 2022

By Mike London

SALISBURY — This wasn’t a typical shock-and-awe outing for the Salisbury girls basketball team, but the Hornets got past North Surry 68-59 in Tuesday’s regional semifinal.

North Surry pressed more than the Hornets anticipated and were more rugged than what the Hornets had seen on film, but Salisbury answered the bell and did what it needed to do to advance.

“They were really physical,” Salisbury senior Rachel McCullough. “They surprised us. It was a very tough game.”

Sixth-seeded North Surry (19-6) took it to the second-seeded Hornets for a stretch of about eight minutes, turning an 8-2 deficit into a 24-19 lead by locking up Salisbury’s scoring leaders McCullough and Kyla Bryant.

Bryant was scoreless in the first quarter and had only four points at halftime.

“Definitely a game of runs and North Surry came to play,” Salisbury head coach Lakai Brice said. “We had to keep our composure.”

With the Hornets stagnant on offense, reserve forward MaKayla Noble bailed them out with an explosive offensive burst and got them going. She scored eight points in the second quarter. Twelve of Salisbury’s 18 second-quarter points came off the bench. Besides Noble, the Hornets got buckets from Icesis Nwafor and Haley Dalton.

“We came back by playing as a team, with a lot of energy and we had good ball movement,” Noble said.

Salisbury (26-1) made it to halftime with a 29-28 lead and was able to regroup from there.

The Hornets picked it up on both ends of the floor in the first few minutes of the second half.

“We were playing zone, but we were able to create some havoc by being aggressive in the zone,” Brice said. “We’ve got some long people in there, and they were getting their hands on passes. That led to some transition offense.”

Bryant connected on a soft jumper off the dribble to open the half. Then a fierce three-point play by Jamecia Huntley triggered a technical foul on the visitors. After McCullough cashed in the technical free throws, it had gone from 29-28 to 36-28 in a hurry. Then Huntley made a step-back 3-pointer — accidentally banking it — and the lead was 11.

Huntley, who scored 11 in the third quarter, swished a 3-pointer to put the Hornets up 51-34.

“We picked up the defensive intensity — that’s what changed,” Bryant said. “”We got after them in the zone, and we got layups.”

That run early in the third quarter provided the separation that would carry the Hornets through the rest of the night.

Salisbury had a 29-point third quarter and led by as many as 23 points before North Surry started fighting back again.

North Surry had to overcome a second technical foul — and a player ejection for throwing a punch.

North Surry could have been blown out, but the visitors kept making shots, kept fighting and the Hornets contributed some stretches of sloppiness.

With the lead down to 13 points with 4:34 left, the Hornets got a timeout and refocused.

Bryant made a driving scoop out of that timeout, Jaleiah Gibson fought for a bucket, and the Hornets were able to finish and take their 25th decision in a row.

Sadie Badgett kept making 3-pointers and scored 22 for the Greyhounds. Callie Allen had 21.

Huntley scored 17, Bryant had 14, and Noble and McCullough scored 12 each for the Hornets.

It was a well-balanced win, with four in double figures and 20 points off the bench.

“Our defense during that run in the third quarter was the key,” Brice said. “That’s why we work so hard on defense in practice. I know these girls can put the ball in the hoop. But this far along in the playoffs, it  comes down to getting stops.”

The NCHSAA has  tweaked its format for Saturday’s regional basketball championship games. Instead of the games being playing on the home court of the higher seed, as the association indicated in February,  the NCHSAA will choose one regional site for both the boys and girls games in each classification.

In the regional final, Salisbury will play defending champion Shelby, a winner over Randleman on Tuesday. The 2A boys regional final will be played at the same site.

The sites, times and ticket information will be announced by the NCHSAA on Wednesday.

Game times will be set by the host schools and will be either noon and 2 p.m., 2 and 4 p.m., or 4 and 6 p.m.

North Surry    13    15    13    18    — 59

Salisbury         11     18   29   10    — 68

N. SURRY — Badgett 22, Allen 21, Tompkins 6, Phillips 3, Chaire 3, Mauldin 2, Bennett 2.

SALISBURY — Huntley 17, Bryant 14, McCullough 12, Noble 12, Gibson 5, Walker 4, Nwafor 2, Dalton 2.