Getting to the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A East regional final isn’t easy, Southeast Raleigh’s girls basketball team just makes it appear that way.
The Bulldogs played a nearly flawless second half against Athens Drive to win 71-59 and get to their third straight East final, overcoming a 50-point effort from Jaguars senior Grace Hunter.
No. 2 seed Southeast Raleigh (25-3), topped the 70-point mark for only the third time this year, shooting 53.1 percent in the second half. For the game, the Bulldogs had a 50-28 points advantage in the paint, 22-8 in second-chance points and 24-0 in bench points.
Southeast led Athens Drive, the No. 6 seed and Southwest Wake Athletic Conference champs, 29-23 at halftime after a steal and buzzer-beating floater by Jada McMillian.
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“We just got back to playing our basketball. I think in the first half we were going outside of the game plan. Our goal going into the game game was to be in attack mode and to attack the zone,” Southeast coach Nicole Meyers said.
Even in the win, Meyers couldn’t help but shake her head while looking at the stat sheet.
“The key thing was – yes, we know she’s a great scorer – but we wanted to eliminate other folks and eliminate their secondary scorers,” Meyers said, adding that she devoted one defender to take away Athens’ second leading scorer Brinae Thornton. “When I look at the box score and see 50, I don’t like 50, but the next highest scorer was four. So I think we did a good job of eliminating everybody else.”
Hunter, a Charlotte recruit, averaged 30.8 points per game on the season and 41.5 points in the postseason with point totals of 29, 43, 44 and 50 in a six-day span.
Against the Bulldogs, she made 16-of-32 shots (4-of-7 from 3) and 14-of-22 free throws. She added 13 rebounds.
Her 50 points ties Enloe’s Shayla Hodges – who incidentally also did it in a loss to Southeast Raleigh in 2008 – for most in a single game by any Wake County public school player. Hunter is also the fourth-leading scorer in WCPSS history, ending her career with 2,112 points.
“I‘m so proud of her. She’s like a daughter to me,” Athens Drive coach Dayna Jordan said through tears. “It’s hard to believe that I’m not going to be with her anymore. But I’m proud of her and where she’s going. She’s going to be a great player in college. I’m just blessed to have coached her.”
Hunter had to play tentatively for most of the second and third quarter after picking up her third foul. Teammate Robin Gallagher had 11 rebounds.
“I had to adjust. The fact that I picked up fouls so quick, I had to step back when they would drive in,” Hunter said, adding that she wasn’t aware how many points she was scoring. “I wasn’t trying to break records or nothing, I was just trying to keep the team in it.”
Athens Drive’s other players were a combined 3-of-23 from the field.
Southeast Raleigh had 10 players score, led by Syracuse recruit Jade Phillips’ 23 points and 13 rebounds. N.C. State recruit Amber Richardson, who split time guarding Hunter with freshman Jada McMillian, had 13 points while Kia Abrams added 10.
The Bulldogs, last year’s state runners-up, say they are ready to defend their East title at 4 p.m. Saturday against Wilmington’s Hoggard High.
“Right now we’re playing for pride. Although Grace did score 50, I think we played as a team and came together,” Phillips said.
They’ve been here before.
“There’s no need to be nervous when you step up you know what you need to do,” Richardson said.