(Hayles halts and hoists – SP’s Jessie Hayles (left) prepares to put one up.)
By DALE CONSTANCE
NETTLETON – The South girls remained undefeated in division play here on Tuesday, Jan. 24, while the boys slipped to 0-3.
The Lady Cougars’ game
It was a matter of staying aggressive and staying hungry.
The South Pontotoc Lady Cougars overcame a slow start last Tuesday and outscored the Nettleton Lady Tigers 18-2 in the third period for a 60-34 win. The victory improved the Lady Cougars to 12-10 overall and 3-0 in Region 3-2A action.
South Pontotoc struggled on offense, missing four of its first five shots.
The Lady Cougars also were rusty on defense as Nettleton was able to penetrate for easy baskets. The Lady Tigers trailed 9-8 after the first period, but quickly grabbed the momentum late in the second period, breaking a 12-12 tie to take a 20-19 halftime lead.
“We didn’t come out ready to play,” South Pontotoc head coach Matt Waldrop said. “When they passed the ball, we watched them. We let them get behind us.”
That all changed in the third period.
Waldrop shook things up defensively by applying more pressure to a Nettleton offense that showed spark in the second quarter. The Lady Tigers responded by going 1-for-18 from the floor in the period.
Nettleton’s only basket in the third came on an offensive rebound and tap-in with just over six minutes left. It was the last basket Nettleton saw for more than nine minutes.
“We made some adjustments in the press,” Waldrop said. “We gambled a little more and made them try and reverse the pressure.”
The Lady Tigers never accomplished that.
Meanwhile, the South Pontotoc offense got untracked. After scoring a team-high seven points in the first half, freshman forward Jessie Hayles caught fire for nine in the third. Her breakaway lay-up and three-pointer from the top of the key stretched the Lady Cougars’ lead to 30-22.
Senior guard Tasha Marshall also got rolling, scoring five points of the third period. Marshall slipped the ball away from a Nettleton player and hit a fast-break lay-up to make it 37-22 through three periods.
Nettleton finally broke its scoreless run with a basket nearly two minutes into the fourth period. But the hungry Lady Cougars continued to feast on the Lady Tigers’ defense. Hayles dropped in a jumper from the top of the key and Marshall hit another fast-break bucket moments later to make it 45-28.
One week after promising to take his players to dinner if they played well this week against Aberdeen and Amory, Waldrop also reminded the Lady Cougars to remain focused on winning the division.
“We’ve got to stay hungry,” Waldrop said. “If you’re complacent, you’re not very good.”
Waldrop also was thrilled with the play of Whitney Washington. The senior guard scored three points – all in the first half – dished out four assists and came away with two key steals in her first game back since tearing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her left knee prior to the start of the season.
“I didn’t know what to expect from Whitney,” Waldrop said. “I was optimistic because she’s been moving around really well.
“She loves the game of basketball and she brings leadership to this team,” Waldrop added. “She’s going to help this team a lot down the stretch.”
The Cougars’ game
It was a second half to be forgotten — and a game South Pontotoc head coach Chris Vandiver hopes his team never forgets.
The Cougars saw a double-digit lead evaporate in the second half here last Tuesday night en route to a 72-66 loss to the Nettleton Tigers.
The loss dropped the Cougars to 10-11 overall and 0-3 in Region 2-3A play.
It also effectively dashed any hopes of the Cougars earning the top seed in the region.
While the loss was disappointing to Vandiver and his charges, it was obvious from the Cougars’ effort in nearly knocking off the perennial divisional powerhouse Tigers that the winds of change were blowing in Region 2-3A.
“I feel like that’s one of the top teams in the division,” Vandiver said of Nettleton. “We could have rebounded better. There were a lot of things that we didn’t do that added up. But if anything, this game is a positive for us.
“That team had the potential to beat us bad. This game should be a confidence builder for us.”
Led by senior forward Andre Crudup’s 13 first-half points, the Cougars built a lead in the second period, Crudup’s three-pointer from the top of the key pushed the Cougars ahead, 23-15.
South Pontotoc stretched the margin to 32-19 midway through the second on senior forward Sean Fowler’s three-pointer from the same spot as the one from Crudup.
After junior guard Evan McMillen hit the front end of a 1-and-1 to make it 35-23, the winds of change began to blow Nettleton’s way. Following two South Pontotoc turnovers, the Tigers sank a runner and a baseline jumper to cut the margin to 35-27 at halftime.
The Cougars looked as though they could repel those winds of change early in the third period. McMillen’s bounce pass from the left corner found Crudup, who leaped high for the lay-in and a 39-31 South Pontotoc lead. A pair of buckets by senior forward J.C. Hayles later in the third kept the margin at nine, 49-40.
Crudup’s touch pass in the paint found McMillen for a 10-foot jumper to push the South Pontotoc lead back to double digits, 53-43, to open the fourth period.
The winds of change then became a full-fledge fury, changing the game’s direction quicker than a winter storm alters the southern landscape.
The Tigers began beating South Pontotoc on the boards, seemingly pulling down rebounds at will. Nettleton went on a 16-5 run over the next three minutes to take the lead. After a Nettleton free throw cut the margin to a point, the Tigers hit the boards for another offensive rebound and putback for a 59-58 edge with 4:07 to go.
Another Cougars’ turnover led to a Nettleton three-pointer and a 62-58 lead.
After Crudup sank a pair of free throws to make it 62-60, Nettleton went on a 7-0 spurt to put the game away.
Although the Cougars missed an opportunity to pick up their first divisional win this season, Vandiver said his team’s real test is still to come.
“We can go 0-5 in the division,” he said, “and we feel like we can still win the division. It doesn’t matter if we’re the No. 1 seed or the No. 6 seed (in the tournament),” Vandiver added. “We feel we have the talent to win this division.”
South Pontotoc looked to pull one of their biggest upsets this year when they jumped on the Tigers early.
The Cougars lead 17-15 after the opening period.