Out-of-character defensive switch proves decisive in Pontotoc win over Tupelo

TUPELO – Pontotoc is a full-court pressure, man-to-man defensive team, so when the Lady Warriors switched to a zone in the fourth quarter Tuesday night it caught Tupelo flat-footed.
“It threw us off some,” Tupelo coach Stephanie Murphy said of Pontotoc’s 1-3-1 zone. “We shouldn’t have been shocked. It was the third 1-3-1 we’ve faced.”
Pontotoc fed off its zone offensively to go on a 9-0 run to start the final quarter and take a seven-point lead on its way to a 66-60 victory on the Lady Wave’s home court.
The Lady Warriors (6-1) got all nine points from their big guns – Rhandi Ball and Ebony Brinker – during the game-changing spurt.
“The defensive change gave them some problems,” Pontotoc coach Bill Russell said. “We wanted to make (Tupelo) play on the perimeter. We were able to get some steals.
“I thought it was the difference in the game.”
Ball and Brinker scored 18 points each to lead Pontotoc. Brinker scored 16 in the second half.
Ball scored 12 of her points in the first half to help the Lady Warriors take a 29-23 halftime lead.
“I thought we played timid in the first half,” Russell said. “We didn’t show much toughness.”
Earlier, Pontotoc built a 23-9 lead in the second quarter. Ball pushed the advantage to 14 points with a mid-range jumper.
Moments before she scored on a 5-foot runner while teammate Katherine Downing sank one of her four 3-pointers. Both baskets came off steals created by Pontotoc’s pressure.
“It’s coming down to execution for us,” Murphy said. “It’s been some of the same things all season. We’re making too many turnovers. We’re giving up offensive rebounds, not making simple plays. We’re not making free throws.
“We’re getting better in spots, but we’ve yet to get it down for 32 minutes.”
Tupelo (4-4) got a team-high 17 points from Chy Cunningham. The Lady Wave’s inside game of Kristen Lockridge and Dasia Mosley combined for 19 points. Lockridge had 10.
The Lady Wave cut Pontotoc’s fourth-quarter lead to 58-56 with 1 minute, 49 seconds remaining on a layup by Lockridge. The Lady Warriors answered on a layup by LaNikki McMilliam off an assist by Kayla Russell.

Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal