Lady ’Cats overcome slow start with strong finish in 60-55 victory over North Lamar
This year’s first Crosstown Showdown girls basketball matchup initially looked like the beginning of a blowout win for the North Lamar Pantherettes. However, the Paris Lady Wildcats overcame an early 10-0 deficit, surged to a 17-point lead, and held off a fierce rally late to secure the critical 60-55 win in Wildcat Gymnasium on Tuesday night.
“We work hard in practice before each game and we’re trying to work better as a team,” Paris senior post Quiniya Savage said. “We’re all young, and I’m the only senior, so we just have to put everything together in each game from our practices.”
A rollercoaster of a start
The Pantherettes came out of the gates strong with an opening 10-0 run and a 14-4 start overall. Pantherettes junior guard Mylee Nottingham sizzled the nets with 9 early points of the first 14 for her team with a variety of long-distance shooting and inside game. The visitors seemed firmly in control of the game.
“They stuck to the game plan in the first part of the first quarter and we didn’t deviate from it,” Pantherettes head basketball coach Taqoya Monds said of her team. “Everyone was in their spots, we were moving the ball, and we were hitting the open person. Defensively, they were alert, but I guess we decided to take a nap sometime after that.”
After North Lamar sophomore guard Cydnie Malone swished a 3-pointer from the right wing with 3:10 left in the first quarter, though, the Pantherettes seemed to hit the snooze button with a 17-7 lead. Meanwhile, the alarm clock buzzed loudly for Paris.
A sleeping giants awakens
Lady ’Cats’ talented guard Keshanti Gordon completed an old-fashioned three-point play as she sank a baseline floater through contact plus the free throw with 1:28 left in the opening frame. After that, sophomore guard Jazzlyn Dangerfield swished a 3-pointer at the top of the key and Savage connected on a tough layup in traffic to trim North Lamar’s lead to 17-15 after the end of the quarter.
Another significant factor in Paris’ surge was the defense. Strong hands and good anticipation by the Lady ’Cat defenders led to a bevy of steals and fastbreak opportunities from the end of the first quarter through most of the fourth quarter. The home team continued to play with more positive energy as their momentum grew. A strong and tactical performance by Paris in the next two quarters resulted in a 45-30 fourth-quarter lead for the home team.
“We really worked on the press and the defense this week, and Niya (Johnson) is in the learning stage. When she gets a deflection or a steal, she gets even hungrier,” Lady ’Cats interim head basketball coach Hiyadeja Moore said. “Her and Jazz Dangerfield, they worked the top really well. We made a switch and moved Asia to the middle with (Keshanti) Gordon, and Quiniya (Savage) played softball and used her leadership and outfielding skills to encourage her teammates and create turnovers. She’ll tell the girls, ‘Go up strong!’ and will pick off passes like she’s playing out in centerfield. We broke things down step-by-step and even implemented some things from Mrs. Althea Dixon a few weeks ago and adjusted it to our style and team strengths.”
Mindful of miscues
Although Paris made its share of solid plays on defense, Monds believes her team’s lapses in execution in stretches contributed to the Lady ’Cats’ success.
“I don’t know if it was necessarily their defense rather than us deviating from what was working,” Monds said. “Defensively, we just stopped covering people that we needed to cover. We stopped closing out on shooters in the corner, and we had previously talked about that in game preparation — it was like we decided to take a break. I don’t know.”
Method to the madness
The same level of attention to detail goes into the offensive preparation as well, and the meticulous planning and impressive execution is something Paris looks to make a staple of their offensive attack.
“We stay prepared with what we need to do offensively depending on who we are going against,” Savage said. “We work on different things for each team we play and know what kind of defense they play, so we already know what we need to do coming into each game.”
Comeback attempt ultimately turned back
Paris held a double-digit lead until the waning minutes of the fourth quarter. The visiting Pantherettes saw Malone and Nottingham knock down 3-pointers while senior guard Macy Richardson connected on a driving layup to cut the deficit to 58-50 with 2:03 left in regulation. Paris called a timeout to regroup even though North Lamar kept charging. However, North Lamar could not creep closer than five points at 60-55, which came on a Nottingham 3-pointer with 28 seconds left. Despite the youth on the roster, Moore saw the Lady ’Cats take a big step in uncharted waters.
“We’re so young,” Moore said, with laughter. “We’ve never been in that position before and I told them that they grew up a lot in this game, especially in the fourth quarter. We had the lead, we’re learning to protect that lead, and to like having that lead. We always have to fight from behind, so that was a big change. We need to take care of the ball better but a lot of that is just nerves and excitement from the lack of experience.”
Savage led Paris with a team-high 21 points while Dangerfield recorded 13 points. Gordon finished with 11 points and Tianya Williams had 9 points. Asia Johnson added 4 points while Jordan Andrade chipped in with 2 points.
Nottingham led the Pantherettes with a game-high 22 points while Richardson scored 12 points. Malone had 9 points and Hutton Pointer added 8 points. Maddie Walters chipped in with 4 points. North Lamar knocked down 10 3-pointers as a team.
Just across town
In the boys’ Crosstown Showdown tilt, the Paris Wildcats started out fast and didn’t look back against the North Lamar Panthers as Paris raced to a 78-36 victory at North Lamar High School on Tuesday night. Wildcats junior Jaelyn Lee led his team with a game-high 26 points while Garrius Savage added 16 points. Jack Johnson led North Lamar with 11 points.
As the season continues…
Moving forward, Moore sees a high ceiling with this group and has faith that they will continue to improve and rise to the occasion.
“Some of the girls are already familiar with my system from junior high and we’ve got freshmen coming up who are adjusting,” Moore said. “Execution is something we work on every day with different drills and fine tuning every day…When they run they play and the rest of the team sees the execution, our bench gets excited to see it done right. They are very disciplined and smart girls, it’s just about getting them to reach their potential. They are capable of backdoor cuts and things like Gordon’s behind-the-back passes, so we’re just going to slowly put it together….We have high hopes for these girls — I sure do.”
On the other hand, the Pantherettes will work to get back into their earlier-season form that saw them win 10 of their first 11 games. With that, strong performances from players like Nottingham and Richardson, coupled with quality outside shooting late in the game, encourage Monds that the best may be yet to come.
“The girls should come out of this game more confident with our shooting. We ended up hitting 10 three’s,” Monds said. “I hate that it took our backs to be against the wall, but I told them, ‘We’re supposed to shoot like that all the time. It shouldn’t take being down for us to start letting it ride. There shouldn’t be as much hesitation as there’s been.’ Hopefully moving forward, we’ll go into the next few games confident that we can knock down those outside shots.”
The Lady ’Cats will shoot for another district win at 6 p.m. Friday at home against Pleasant Grove. Meanwhile, the Pantherettes will try to rebound at 6 p.m. Friday at Pittsburg. On the boys side, Paris will play at 7:30 p.m. Friday at home against Gilmer while North Lamar will take the court at 7:30 p.m. Friday at home against Pittsburg. For more sports coverage, click here.