By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Pontotoc freshman guard Kayla Russell knew she had a tough assignment Monday night – guarding Lawrence County shootist Tiaria Griffin.
The 5-foot-8 junior, despite Russell – with help – following her every move, scored 31 points, including 14 in the deciding fourth quarter to lead the Lady Cougars to a 62-54 win in the MHSAA Class 4A State Tournament semifinals.
“She’s what I practiced against,” Russell said, fighting back tears. “She’s got good moves. She can shoot from anywhere.”
Lawrence County (26-8) advanced to Friday’s 7 p.m. championship game against top-ranked New Albany.
Pontotoc (24-7), behind back-to-back field goals by forwards Rhandi Ball and Ebony Brinker, took a 40-39 lead into the fourth quarter. LaNikki McMillian, a backup post player for Pontotoc, came in to score on a layup early in the final period to push that lead to 42-39.
That’s when Griffin, who scored 50 points earlier this season against Wilkerson County, went to work. She scored eight of the Cougars’ next 10 points to give them a 49-46 lead with 4 minutes left.
“Our goal was 20 or less and she got 31,” Pontotoc coach Bill Russell said of Griffin’s effort. “We did a much better job with our help in the third quarter. I think she had only two points.
“We had to extend our defense in the fourth and she put the game away.”
Griffin later hit a twisting shot in the lane to give her team a 55-50 edge with 1:03 left. Down the stretch, Lawrence County hit just enough free throws – 5 of 8 – and took advantage of two Lady Warriors turnovers to clinch the win.
“Give all the credit to Lawrence County. They got they ball in the hands of the player they needed to,” Russell said. “Man, she finished. She’s awfully good.”
Ball scored 15 points and added 10 rebounds for a double-double to lead Pontotoc. Brinker paced the team in scoring with 18 points and added eight boards.
Mary McLaurin hurt the Warriors inside in the first half with her play on the boards. She had four offensive rebounds and scored 14.
“We did a poor job blocking out,” Russell said. “We were so focused on (Griffin) and trying to get help there. Our post players lost her.”
n Game summary, Page 2B