At the most crucial moment Tuesday night, West Johnston’s offense worked just like coach Laura Jefferson would like it to.
The Wildcats, down two points to rival Clayton, pushed the ball up the court, countering the Comets’ pressure with Christian Sanders feeding post player Tehya Lee just a couple of feet away from the basket.
Lee made a decisive move to the basket, drawing a foul and banking in the ball to give West the lead for good — and its first girls basketball win over Clayton in school history: a 40-39 decision.
Lee completed the three-point play and Clayton standout senior Taisha Murphy could only draw a little bit of iron with her 3-pointer at the buzzer, lifting the Wildcats to 2-4 in conference play and fifth place in the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference.
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“We had some troubles with turnovers at times but when we had to have it, we did a good job of getting the ball down court. And Christian got the ball into Tehya’s hands when we needed a big basket,” Jefferson said.
“If we can get the ball to Tehya within five feet of the basket, she’s going to score.”
The winning closing sequence started oddly with a Clayton player at the line for a one-and-bonus foul shot with 11 seconds to play. The live ball bounced off of the rim and a West player touched the ball in the direction of an official who caught it as the other players on the foul line held their position, all apparently thinking it was a two-shot foul situation.
The official quickly dropped the ball, which was recovered by a West player. At that point, another official whistled the play dead.
After a discussion, the officials awarded the ball to West Johnston underneath Clayton’s basket. The closing sequence with Sanders getting the ball to Lee with a 40-foot pass followed.
The Comets (2-15 overall, 0-7 conference) led 23-18 at the half, but struggled to score in the third quarter as West (4-12, 2-4) pulled ahead 29-26 on a 3-pointer from Sanders in the final 30 seconds of the frame.
West, meanwhile, shined at the free throw line. The Wildcats were 17-of-24 on the night with post players Lee and Alexus Stancil going 10-for-13 (77 percent). Lee led West with 14 points, while Stancil had seven and Sanders finished with eight.
“Tehya and Tanay are the best free throw shooters we have,” Jefferson said. “But Alexus has worked really hard on free throws this year. We finished practice the day before with everybody taking five free throws in a row and I noticed then how much better her form has improved since early in the season.”
The Comets, however, were able to push ahead with aggressive drives for layups from Maya Williams and Au’Shonna Langley pushing the Comets ahead 37-34 with 1:07 to go.
The Clayton lead grew to 39-35 with 28.3 seconds left on two free throws from Murphy, the Richmond signee who led the Comets with 15 points on the night.
“We had to work to keep the ball out of Murphy’s hands,” Jefferson said. “But we did a good job with the box-and-one (defense) with McKenzie (Jordan) and Tanay (Smith) working against her.”
After Murphy’s free throws, Sanders scored on a short jumper with 13 seconds left and West fouled a Clayton player setting up the final sequence with the post-free throw confusion and Lee’s game-winning basket.
“We’ve been in a lot of close games and I feel like we’re starting to handle those situations better,” Jefferson said. “There are still times when we shoot 3-pointers like we are behind when we should work the ball more for a better shot. We still need to be a more patient team at times.”