Junior standout Jada McMillian and her undefeated Southeast Raleigh teammates weathered a great fourth-quarter comeback by a hard-playing Heritage squad and advanced to the fourth round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A girls basketball playoffs Saturday afternoon with a 56-52 win over the Huskies.
With the win Southeast (30-0) will host either New Hanover or Hillside Tuesday, with the winner advancing to the East Region championship next Saturday. Heritage (25-4) concludes a strong season and has a very bright future, as coach Pat Kenndy’s starting lineup Saturday included four sophomores and a junior.
“We beat Heritage earlier in the year in overtime so we knew this would be a game between two really good teams,” said McMillan, who scored 19. “Both teams played hard and we knew it was do or die, so we had to win. I enjoy playing basketball and you’ve got to have fun in games like this.”
The Bulldogs led 43-32 with 7:30 left in the game, but Heritage went on a 9-0 run including a 3-point play and a 3-point shot by sophomore Cydney Johnson (19 points) to cut the led to 43-41. That’s when McMillian broke the Southeast scoring drought with an inside basket. Heritage continued its charge and took a 47-45 led on a basket by Alissa Smalls (21) off a pass from Demi Washington.
McMillian answered that with a 3-point play of her own. As the clock ran down, the two teams played to ties of 48-48, 50-50, and 52-52.
Southeast took the lead for good with 27 seconds left on a follow shot by Nevach Haddock after a fastbreak. Heritage then missed a three and the ball went out of bounds, with Southeast taking possession. Southeast’s Tamia Davis then hit two free throws for the final margin.
“They took the lead on an effort play,” Kennedy said. “Their girl just beat us downcourt to get the offensive rebound. Plus we were just 11 of 25 from the free throw line. You just can’t beat a good team on the road in the third round of the playoffs with that. .... But I’ve got to applaud our girls for all they accomplished this year. Basketball season is a grind, starting with practice, and you had better like each other.”
McMillian was the only Bulldog in double figures, but Southeast coach Nicole Meyers plays a lot of girls and 10 scored in the win over Heritage.
“It’s been a team effort all year,” Meyers said. “We played a lot of girls early in the year so now we can go 12 deep and that’s an advantage.”
Still, Meyers looks to McMillian for leadership.
“I’ve stressed to her this year that she is such an integral part of our team and she is the glue that holds us together,” Meyers said “She doesn’t have to lead us in scoring, but she leads by example. The girls look to her for leadership. And today they faced adversity and it was good to see them respond like that with their backs against the wall.”
As a three-year starter as a junior, McMillian still has an unfulfilled goal.
“We got to the state finals my freshman year and lost, so we’re fighting to get back there and win it,” she said.