Considering the Southeast Raleigh girls basketball team went undefeated in the Greater Neuse River Conference, unbeaten at home all season, unbeaten against North Carolina schools and won 21 regular season games by an average of 35 points, the Bulldogs may not have been battle-tested before the postseason.
They are now.
Southeast Raleigh (24-2) outlasted Wilmington Laney 44-39 in the third round of the 4A NCHSAA playoffs to earn a return trip to Fayetteville for a spot in the Eastern regionals next Thursday night.
In an intense game marked by high pressure defense, the Bulldogs felt that they had let too many opportunities slip away in the first half as Southeast Raleigh missed several shots from point blank range which partially accounted for a 19-16 Laney lead at the break.
Jade Phillips calmed down the Bulldogs in the pivotal third quarter, however, as the junior posted six points, three rebounds, a pair of assists and a key block that led to a fast break lay-up to give Southeast Raleigh a three-point advantage heading into the final quarter.
“In the first half, I felt that she was pushing too much,” Southeast Raleigh coach Nicole Meyers said of Phillips, who ended the game with 11 points. “She settled down and started playing the way she’s played all year long.”
As Phillips went, so did the Bulldogs as they matched their entire scoring output from the first half in the third quarter with 16 points.
In addition to three buckets from Phillips (two coming from offensive rebounds), a pair of Tiffany McCarter lay-ups and a pair of 3-pointers from Alexus Hicks and Amber Richardson gave Southeast Raleigh the momentum during a 16-7 run that gave them a 32-26 late in the quarter.
Despite Phillips’ play in the third quarter and a concentrated effort from the Bulldogs on picking up the defensive intensity, the Buccaneers (23-6) would not go away easily.
Thanks to an array of acrobatic yet contested finishes at the basket from senior guards Brianna Baham and Tiana Edwards, Laney pulled even with the Bulldogs at 37-37 with 3:12 left in the game.
“We made them have to make acrobatic plays—and they did make them—but our defense was good; that’s all we could ask for.
“We’re all about our defense, it’s all we’ve ever been about and we let our defense dictate our offense which is what happened in the second half.”
After Southeast Raleigh hit 3-of-4 foul shots, Baham hit 1-of-2 at the line to bring Laney to within 40-38 with 2:03 left.
The Bulldogs then proceeded to run over 40 seconds off of the clock before Amber Richardson got around her defender and drove to the basket before converting the lay-up to give the Bulldogs breathing room.
“Our composure, stepping up on defense and then getting and finishing good shots (were key),” said Richardson, who led the Bulldogs with 13 points.
Laney put itself in position to possibly tie the game with a free throw and offensive rebound but an Alexus Hicks’ steal prevented the Buccaneers from ever getting off a shot down just 42-39.
From there, Hicks made 2-of-4 from the free throw line to ice the game.
Edwards led the Buccaneers with 18 points while Baham added 13 points and nine rebounds.
Tiffany McCarter joined Phillips and Richardson in double figures with 10 points for a Southeast Raleigh team that beat Northern Durham by 13 points in the opening round before scraping past Jordan by five points in the second round.
“We’ve worked this week,” Meyers said. “What I’ve liked is that we’ve had our backs up against the wall and the fight and determination they’ve shown is the type of fight and determination they need to win a state championship.
“We’ve been battle-tested early and they think they can overcome anything so we’re going into regionals with some confidence.”