Sandra Langley has accumulated 718 victories during her storied career as SouthWest Edgecombe’s girls basketball coach, but few have been as improbable as Tuesday’s road decision at North Johnston
With second place outright at stake in the Eastern Plains Conference standings, Langley’s Cougars went over 12 minutes without scoring a basket and trailed by 14 points at halftime before rallying for a 47-41 triumph over the Panthers.
“I’ve lost plenty of games where we went that long without getting a basket,” Langley said. “I’m not sure I’ve won any that way, though.”
SouthWest finished off the varsity sweep by pulling away in the second half en route to recording a 50-34 conquest in the boys game.
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North Johnston girls stunned
A victorious double dip seemed unlikely at halftime of the girls showdown as North Johnston, utilizing an effective hybrid defense, rolled ahead by a 26-12 margin. The Cougars went from the 3:05 mark of the first period all the way to the break without registering a bucket, and that streak would extend into the beginning of the third stanza.
“SouthWest likes to put two post players on the block, so we made sure we had two defenders on them at all times,” said North Johnston coach Jay Poole. “We wanted to also put man-to-man pressure on two of their guards and sag off their other guard to provide help inside. It was effective for us.”
On the other side of the court, the Cougars (9-6, 2-1) were sitting back in a zone, and North Johnston’s Levossie Taylor was more than happy to take advantage of the strategy. Taylor notched 16 points in the opening half alone, and the Panthers (9-8, 2-2) seemed in control heading into the locker room.
That’s when Langley decided to switch to a man-to-man defense, with an emphasis on a full-court press. Calisa Barnes broke the Cougars’ basket drought with a 3-point play at the 6:58 mark of the third period as part of a 19-3 spurt that saw North Johnston embark on a bucket-less skein of its own.
The Panthers didn’t connect on a two-pointer the entire quarter and suddenly found themselves trailing 31-29 going into the closing eight minutes.
“It’s hard for us to be get down and be able to come back,” Langley said. “We started to find some offense through our defense. We had to do some things differently because (Taylor) was killing us in the first half. And we were frustrated by what (North Johnston) was doing to us defensively.”
The lead changed hands four times early in the fourth period before SouthWest went ahead for good at 40-37 on a 3-pointer from point guard Teliyah Owens with 4:37 remaining.
“What really hurt us was turnovers,” said Poole, whose club had extreme difficulty getting the ball to half-court against SouthWest’s press in the third frame. “We also got into some foul trouble, and (the Cougars) dictated the tempo in the second half. They got us to make some mistakes.”
Tia Farmer paced SouthWest with 21 points, followed by Owens with 12 markers, 10 of which came in the second half. Taylor scored 19 points for the Panthers but was held to just three markers over the final 16 minutes of action.
Cougars’ boys win with defense
The boys event followed a similar scenario as the Cougars held a 26-22 cushion at halftime before opting for an energetic man-to-man defense that paid immediate dividends early in the third period. SouthWest opened the half with an 8-2 surge with Quontellus Norwood delivering all of the points.
The change in defenses allowed SouthWest (5-9, 1-3) to gain several steals and ensuing transition baskets en route to picking up its first conference victory of the season. North Johnston dropped to 5-12 and 0-4.
“We won with team defense,” Norwood said. “(Going to man-to-man) got us loose. We were looking at this as a must-win game, so this was very important for us to get a rallying going (in the EPC).”
Both teams struggled mightily from the free-throw line with SouthWest being able to earn the triumph despite going just 4-of-19 from the stripe. The Panthers weren’t much better at 9-of-28.
North Johnston managed only 12 points in the second half, compared to 24 for the Cougars. Norwood and teammate Demingo McDaniels combined for 21 of those tallies to help SouthWest take charge for good.
Norwood would finish with 16 total points, with McDaniels not far behind at 13. Ben Jaramillo and Trey Whitley offered eight markers apiece for North Johnston.