Hillside couldn’t overcome a slow start and hot shooting by New Hanover’s Ayonna Cotten on Saturday night as the Hornets lost 56-50 in the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A girls state playoffs.
Cotten scored a game-high 24 points, which was one off her career high of 25. She made four 3s in the first quarter and a career-best six from behind the arc.
Hillside fell behind 21-14 early and fought back to tie it twice in the fourth quarter but never got back in front. Hillside finished 25-4.
Hillside coach Ovester Grays said falling behind early was the downfall.
“They hit some 3s to open a little gap and from there it was even-Steven the rest of the game,” Grays said. “Those four or five minutes, they got off to a better start than we did.”
Elisia Grissett, who finished with 20 points to lead the Hornets, didn’t score until she hit a driving layup with 2:32 left in the first quarter to make it 15-12. She fouled out with 3:20 left in the game.
Hillside trailed by nine, 23-14, early in the second quarter. The Hornets trailed by as many as eight points in the final 2:12 of the half before cutting New Hanover’s lead to 28-24 on a pair of Faith Blackstone free throws with 33 seconds left.
Blackstone, a freshman, finished with 12 points.
“I thought Faith stepped up big time and made some really good plays for us,” Grays said. “She’s going to be good for us.”
But New Hanover got the final bucket to lead by six at the intermission.
It marked the second time in three games Hillside trailed at the half and only the fourth time all season.
They only came back to win once, which was on Tuesday in the first round of the playoffs against J.H. Rose.
When Jessica Wright hit a 3 from the left corner with 6:52 left in the game, it marked a 7-0 run to start the fourth quarter to make it 43-42, forcing a New Hanover timeout. Cotten then restored New Hanover’s three-point lead after getting free in the lane despite being shadowed by Wright.
After Grissett fouled out, Grays said he still felt his team had a chance. The game was tied 45-all at that point.
“I thought we were still in it,” Grays said. “It hurt us when (Grissett) went out but Kelbi (Lewis), Jessica and Michaela (Thompson) stepped up and took over where they needed to. ‘Lele’ (Grissett) is a bigtime player and I thought the remaining kids did a good job. I thought we did well but we did panic one time that gave them a turnover.”
After New Hanover went up 47-45 on a pair of free throws by Michelle Jacobs, Hillside came back and tied it up with a driving layup by Lewis with 2:37 remaining.
Merrell hit back-to-back buckets to give New Hanover a 51-47 lead, her second coming with 1:24 left in the game.
Lewis, who finished with 12 points, got Hillside back to within three by splitting a pair of free throws with 56.4 seconds left. Hillside’s pressure forced New Hanover to use its last timeout to avoid a 10-second call with 48.1 remaining.
Lewis scored Hillside’s final bucket with 5 seconds left to make it 54-50 but the Hornets didn’t have any timeouts left to stop the clock.
New Hanover shot almost 50 percent from the floor (19 of 41) and was 6 of 10 from behind the arc. They also made 12 of 15 free throws.
Hillside wasn’t nearly as efficient shooting, going 14 of 41 from the floor and 17 of 24 from the line. They had 19 turnovers in the game, a number they usually force. They only got New Hanover to commit 15 in the game, including only five in the second half.