High school girls basketball: Bryant, Nwafor lead Hornets to another title

Published 1:03 am Saturday, February 18, 2023


Hornets, champs

By Mike London

LEXINGTON — Seniors with the skill level and career accomplishments of Salisbury guard Kyla Bryant aren’t normally uncommitted well into February, but COVID redshirts and the transfer portal have changed the recruiting landscape.

Bryant finally took care of her suspenseful decision on Friday.  She announced that her career and education — she wants to be a nurse — will continue at North Carolina Central University. The NCCU Eagles recruited her for years.

Bryant chose her 18th birthday as the perfect time to reveal her college destination. The date just happened to coincide with the Central Carolina Conference Tournament championship game in Lexington.

Bryant took care of her on-the-court business, as well, scoring 31 points and leading the top-seeded Hornets to an impressive 88-61 victory over second-seeded North Rowan on Friday night.

“I can’t believe we scored 88 because we haven’t been close to that kind of offensive game all season,” said Bryant’s proud mother/coach Lakai Brice. “But we shot the ball very well tonight and shot a very high percentage on free throws. Icesis (Nwafor) had a fantastic game. It’s like I told our team, if we can shoot the ball like that, we’ll be OK against anybody in the playoffs.”

Bryant’s scoring was prolific, but not that unusual. She averages about 23, almost always gets at least 20.

MaKayla Noble, one of the county’s most talented players, scored 19. That wasn’t a shock.

But Nwafor had an unusually monstrous game that propelled the Hornets’ offense to a different level. Her season high was 16 and her career high was 20, but she broke loose for 25. She made four 3-pointers and was automatic at the foul line.

As a team, Salisbury made 10 3-pointers. With that sizzling shooting, the Hornets won handily despite another awesome game by North junior Bailee Goodlett.

Goodlett, an explosive guard who is having a season for the record books, made six 3-pointers and scored 38.

“Bailee was on fire, played great and shot the ball extremely well,” Brice said. “The best game I’ve ever seen her play.”

Salisbury jumped on the Cavaliers 8-0 and 12-2 at the start, and a triple by Bryant made it 15-4.

But the Cavaliers, who had lost 58-42 and 64-34 to the Hornets, fought back, stayed in the game, and trailed 23-16 after a quarter.

North got as close as 30-25 in the second quarter, but Nwafor had a 12-point second quarter and then Noble heated up. Salisbury took a 47-32 lead to the half.

Bryant scored 17 in the second half and had a 10-point fourth quarter as the Hornets put the Cavaliers away.

It was the 100th high school game for Bryant, who hasn’t missed any. The Hornets are 92-8 with her in the lineup and 60-0 against CCC opponents — 51-0 in the regular season and 9-0 in four conference tournaments.

Besides enjoying an amazing shooting night, Salisbury benefited from the usual defensive contributions of Haley Dalton and Mary Morgan.

Shamya Arnold, the sixth person, made four free throws while the game was still tight. Mariana Zapata made a 3-pointer to close the scoring.

Goodlett, who finished two points shy of her career high and five short of the school record, didn’t get a lot of scoring help until the fourth quarter. That’s when Brittany Ellis scored eight of her 10 points.

Chloee Stoner led North’s rebounding with seven.

Six of North’s eight losses are to Salisbury and West Rowan.

North (18-8) is 10th in the 1A West RPI rankings, but is expected to be seeded higher than that for the playoffs. As the best 1A team in a split conference, North will be seeded as a conference champion. Pairings will be announced today.

Salisbury (21-3) won its 10th game in a row since losing to a Virginia team and has moved up to third in the 2A West RPI rankings.

“That means we have the chance to play several games at home, and that’s always a good thing,” Brice said. “But this is an experienced team, and even on the road, we should be fine. We played a very tough non-conference schedule, and the best teams we played were away from home.”

North Rowan    16    16   11   18   — 61

Salisbury           23    24   21   20  — 88

North — Bailee Goodlett 38, Ellis 10, Stoner 5, D. Elder 4, Bloom Goodlett 4.

Salisbury — Bryant 31, Nwafor 25, Noble 19, Dalton 4, Arnold 4, Zapata 3, Morgan 2.