With their post-season playoff hopes precarious, North Johnston’ varsity basketball teams could not afford anything but an optimum effort and respective victories over Wilson Beddingfield.
Mired in fifth place in their respective divisions of the Eastern Plains 2A Conference, victories were needed Tuesday night in hopes of landing a possible wild card in the upcoming NCSHAA 2A Basketball Tournament.
Those hopes were dashed by devastating runs in both affairs, as the Panthers girls were rocked early in falling by a 65-30 count, while the boys faltered in the second half, dropping a 62-39 outcome.
The losses dropped the girls to 2-7 in the EPC and 10-11 overall, with an outside chance at a wild card. North’s boys slipped to 5-16 overall and 2-7 in the EPC.
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First quarter surge dooms North girls
The Panthers never got out of the gate against the Bruins, as league-leading Beddingfield rocketed to a 21-3 first period lead.
Taking advantage of their speed, size and athleticism, the Bruins, (14-3, 7-0), forced the Panthers into 12 turnovers and limited North to only nine shots in the first period, of which only one found the bottom of the net.
Leading the way for the Bruins was Alexis Toney and Jasmine Stevens, both popping in 14 points against the Panthers.
Tomey used her speed and floor generalship to lead the attack, while Stevens dominated the backboards as well as the offensive paint and baseline.
Both players set the tone early with steals leading to layups on North’s first two possessions. After that, the Panthers found themselves constantly trying to come up with ways to get by and through the full-court press of the Bruins.
North’s only basket of the quarter came from Tangela Williams, finishing on a pass from Kaylnn Batten. The Panthers’ other point was a Chandler Hines free throw.
Beddingfield pushed its lead to 29-7 early in the second period, but then the Panthers found a little success. closing the gap to 31-17 behind balanced scoring - seven North Johnston players notched baskets in the quarter.
Beddingfield quickly squelched that threat and regained control, putting the game on cruise control in the final ten minutes.
“All I can say is that you have to give a lot of credit to Beddingfield,” said North coach Jay Poole. “They did a great job with their press and put tremendous pressure on us in ball control.”
Poole said the Panthers continued to compete, trying to get a spark by trying to draw fouls from the Bruins as well as force turnovers, and finding any consistency on offense, but nothing clicked.
“That’s Beddingfield’s main objective,” he said. “to force their opponents into turnovers and move the ball side-to-side instead of up and down, dictating the way you play.”
Familiar problems plague boys
For two and a half quarters, Derrick Johnson was seeing the performance he wanted from the Panthers - solid execution, a competitive effort - and a close game on the scoreboard. Then the bugaboos that have afflicted the Panthers throughout the season struck again.
Shots that should seemingly go through the hoop spinning out or clanking off the front or back of the rim, leading to transition baskets followed by unforced turnovers. The result of that scenario bit the Panthers once again, as the Bruins capitalized with a 16-0 run, putting the game out of reach.
Trailing 35-31 with 4:31 left in the third quarter, the Panthers endured a six minute drought in which they came up empty on 15 possessions, while going 0-for-12 from the floor.
Even point blank shots gave the impression there was a lid permanently sealed on North Johnston’s basket, as the easiest of shots failed to produce a score.
“We’ve had pretty much the same thing happen pretty much to us all year,” Johnson said. “I thought we had a good first half and came out strong in the second half and started well. But we go through streaks. I thought we had good shots, but we go through streaks where we just can’t put the ball in the basket.
“We went through six or seven possessions where I thought we had pretty good shots, but we didn’t make anything.”
Beddingfield has no such problems. Many shots that were missed, came on North Johnston fouls, in which the Panthers were attempting to do any defensive to turn the tide.
The Bruins connected on 10-of-12 free throws in the spree.
“I think it hurts us mentally defensively,” Johnson said, “where we go through that many possessions and we don’t score and they go down there and score and get fouls and free throws.”
The Panthers came out matching the Bruins score for score in the opening half behind Trey Daniels, who led North with 15 points, including the first six.
The teams traded baskets throughout the first half, with the Panthers claiming 13-12 lead through the first period and Beddingfields crambling late in the second quarter to lead 28-25 at intermission.
Elijah Hooks led the Bruins with 21 points.