Defense was the focus Tuesday night as Fayette County defended their home court with a doubleheader sweep of Whitewater. The Lady Tigers took the opener 50-39, and the boys won 53-43. The teams will meet again Feb. 5.
“That was a big win,” Lady Tigers coach John Strickland said of taking one from a region rival. “Playing Whitewater is always fun, especially for the kids. They’ve been playing each other since middle school. It makes it fun when they play again on the high school level.”
The Lady Tigers grinded out their win, shaking off a slow start and locking down the Wildcats, including allowing just five points in the third quarter.
“I thought our defense has picked up a lot. That was one of the key points coming into the second half of the year,” said Strickland.
Offensively, it was a balanced attack. Darryl Langford was red-hot at the start, keeping her team in the game early. In the third quarter, it was Rikkelle Miller hitting a trio of 3-pointers to push the Tigers in front. Langford finished the night with 18 points, followed by Miller and Maegan Barkley with 11 apiece. Jessica Watkins was big on the glass, pulling down 15 rebounds.
“(Darryl and Rikkelle) were the 1-2 punch tonight, shooting it from the outside and spreading them out, and that gave Maegan (Barkley) the opportunity to get to the basket,” said Strickland.
Fayette built up a 17-12 lead after one quarter, but it was the Wildcats who surged again in the second quarter. Jada Claude corralled a loose ball and sank a jumper to pull within two, then Morgan Johnson and Jordan Barnett teamed up for the rest. First, Johnson fed Barnett for the tying bucket, then she dished to Barnett for a 3-pointer to grab a 22-19 halftime lead.
The third quarter was all Fayette as they outscored the Wildcats 19-5. Barkley left early in the second quarter after taking an elbow to the nose, but returned in the second half to spark her team. Courtney Smith kept the Cats in front with a jumper before Miller went off from behind the arc with a 3-pointers. Langford added a 3-pointer of her own as the Tigers surged ahead 38-27 after three quarters.
Claude posted consecutive baskets to start the fourth, and Janiya Jones added a layup, but they would see the deficit grow down the stretch. Fayette was steady at the free throw line, icing the game in the waning moments, for a 50-39 victory.
Courtney Smith led the Lady Wildcats with 11 points, followed by Jordan Barnett with 10. Jada Claude posted 9 points and 8 rebounds.
A win in the boys game is the continuation of the strong play of late for the Tigers. They know they still have plenty of work to do, but they’re getting there.
“We’re coming around. We go up and down, but I’m very pleased we came out and played hard because Whitewater has been doing well. It’s almost a game we had to have,” said Fayette coach Andre Flynn. “I’m just proud of the guys.”
The boys game had much the same complexion of the opener, as both teams struggled to get their offenses in gear under heavy defensive pressure.
“We’ve been playing pretty good defense. We’ve still got a ways to go as far as rebounding,” said Flynn. “On the offensive end, that’s where we’ve been struggling. If we can get a few baskets in there, I think we’ll be okay.”
Among a balanced effort, Noah Gurley, who Flynn called the team’s mainstay, posted 22 points and 9 rebounds, and first-year point guard Austin Nesmith provided a spark with 19 points, 4 assists, and 3 rebounds.
“It’s been tough at times, but Austin makes us go,” said Flynn. “He stepped up hitting free throws tonight.”
Whitewater grabbed the momentum early off a Garrett Owen jumper to open the game and held on throughout the first half. The first half was full of banging in the paint as few points were scored from the floor. The Wildcats finished the low-scoring first quarter ahead 11-6.
Gurley heated up for the Tigers to start the second quarter, scoring the first four points with a flourish, throwing down a vicious tomahawk dunk over a defender. A Ridge Perkins circus shot got the Wildcat crowd back in the game as the margin stayed close. Eric Williams hit a 3-pointer for Fayette, keeping within 21-15 at halftime.
Perkins sank a hook shot to start the second half, but the Cats soon saw their lead slip away. Jaylon Cheffin dished to Gurley for a one-handed dunk to grab the lead at 26-25. They would not relinquish it the rest of the night. Whitewater kept it close at 33-29 thanks to Josh Lanier sinking 2-of-3 free throws after getting fouled on a buzzer-beater attempt.
Gurley opened the final frame with a three-point play, and Lanier responded with a 3-pointer. Jordan Wright added a bucket to pull within two points, but it was as close as they would get. Eric Williams hit from deep to cool the momentum, and the Tigers would pull away for a 53-43 win.
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