Jaleesa Dillard simply did what her coach said she would do in the closing seconds of a rare December clash in girls basketball Tuesday night between Millbrook and Southeast Raleigh. Dillard, a junior at Millbrook, kept her head and won the game.
Dillard’s free throw with two seconds left lifted Millbrook to a 45-44 win over the Bulldogs in a matchup of the N&O’s top two ranked teams. Southeast, ranked No.1 going in and a state finalist last season, entered the contest 4-0; Millbrook, the state 4A champion in 2012 and 2013, moved to 6-0 with the victory.
“I told Jaleesa during the timeout after she got the foul on their end that she was going to win this game for us,” said Millbrook coach Chris East. “She kept her head and didn’t panic.”
Southeast senior Amber Richardson, an N.C. State recruit, hit a free throw with 14.1 seconds left to tie the game at 44.
Millbrook brought the ball down, couldn’t get into the set East wanted to run, but did find sophomore Kai Crutchfield open for a 3-point attempt. Dillard pulled down the rebound and was fouled trying to put up a follow shot with two seconds left. She hit the first free throw, then missed the second one. By the time Southeast got control of the rebound, the final buzzer was sounding.
“I love playing Southeast Raleigh,” East said. “Coach (Nicole) Meyers has done an outstanding job with this program. And you know you’re going to face a talented team that gets after it, especially on defense. Although I wondered if we were ready for a defensive test like this this early in the season.”
The Bulldogs jumped out to a 7-0 lead, then went up 37-29 early in the fourth quarter. Millbrook found offense just when it needed to to stay within reach of the lead. Crutchfield’s second 3-ball (with 2:06 to play) of the fourth quarter gave Millbrook a 43-41 lead. Crutchfield led all scorers with 18 points.
Richardson hit two free throws to tie the game with 1:02 to play. And Millbrook’s Sisalynn Norman and Richardson traded free throws to get things back even at 44.
Richardson led Southeast with 16 points; Syracuse recruit Jade Phillips had 11.
“I don’t want us to get over this one as quickly as I would other games,” Meyers said. “I want this one to stick with us for a while.”
Both teams left with a sense that they knew what the future probably held — “There’s no doubt that we will meet again,” Meyers said — and what success on a stage such as this one might mean. “That was the best we’ve looked all year,” East said. “If we play like that every night, I’ll be a very happy man.”