The Starr’s Mill Lady Panthers have found their offensive rhythm. On Friday night, the Panthers showcased their perimeter acumen, including 6 3-pointers, to prevail 64-60 over the Whitewater Lady Wildcats.
Panthers’ guard Alice Anne Hudson lead the way with 25 points. She started off hot, hitting back-to-back threes, to give Starr’s Mill an early edge. Teammates Jaclyn Hester (14 points) and Ashtyn Lally (10 points) sustained the momentum late to secure the victory.
Starr’s Mill has won three out of their last four games. The Panthers improved to 3-4 overall and 2-0 in region play.
It’s great to win, especially with it being one of our first region games of the season,” Starr’s Mill head coach Emily Sweeney said. “It feels really good.”
Whitewater put up a valiant effort at home. After falling behind by 10 points in the third quarter, the Wildcats fought back with a late rally. Senior duo Courtney Smith and Jada Claude owned the final period with a combined 21 points.
With 30 seconds left, Whitewater dwindled the deficit to two points. Smith, who had been dominant all night, brought the ball up the floor. As she went to pivot, Hudson stepped in front and stole the basketball. She raced to the rim to give the Panthers a four-point lead.
Two possessions later, Smith had another chance to tie the game. This time, she launched a 3-pointer, but the shot bounced out of bounds. The missed opportunities hurt Whitewater as Starr’s Mill guard Kara Dial nailed a free throw to ice the game.
Smith finished with 34 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists. Claude added 20 points and 14 rebounds in defeat. Whitewater fell to 4-4 overall and suffered its second loss in region play.
“Alice Anne (Hudson) got a layup and that was the turning point of the game,” Whitewater head coach Rashad Muhyee said. “That stopped the momentum that we had in the last two minutes. She is a great player and she stepped up.”
Hudson continued her hot streak against Whitewater. She controlled the game on the defensive end with several rebounds and steals. She was active in the 2-3 zone and forced Whitewater to struggle at times.
In the third quarter, Hudson got going offensively. She added 13 points and drew attention away from her teammates. This allowed interior players like Hester and Ryanne King to thrive with easy layups around the rim. King shined with 8 points and 8 rebounds in the game.
According to Sweeney, her effort was important in pulling out the win.
“She is more aggressive this season and that’s all I can ask of her,” Sweeney said. “Last year, she would go in the corner and be content. Now, she is stepping it up and do exactly what we need her to do.”
Starr’s Mill now turns its attention to another road test against Heard County. The Braves are a scrappy team that likes to be physical. With a win, the Panthers can get back to .500 midway through the season.
Despite the loss, Whitewater took away some positives against Starr’s Mill. Claude added another double-double and showed her vast skill set with baskets off the dribble. Also, underclassmen Allie Watson and Sole Chinnery had key moments down the stretch.
The Wildcats return to action against Griffin on Saturday afternoon. Muhyee told his team to keep fighting and turn the page against a tough region opponent.
“It’s a tough start to the region,” Muhyee said…”I told them don’t hang their heads. Our job is to give it our best effort.”
Panthers slide past Wildcats 57-46
Starr’s Mill bounced back from a tough non-region slate with an impressive victory over rival McIntosh on Tuesday night. The Panthers ended their week with another region win. On Friday, they outlasted the Whitewater Wildcats 57-46.
Junior guard Jamaine Mann led the Panthers with 19 points. He battled all night with Whitewater forward Omar Ndengey in the paint. Mann was dominant late with 8 points in the fourth quarter. He also nailed 9 free-throws as Starr’s Mill improved to 3-6 overall.
Ndengey led Whitewater with 14 points. He thrilled the crowd with a couple thunderous blocks and dunks. Despite his effort, the Wildcats fell to 2-5 on the season.
“My mentality is to try and get to the free-throw line every game,” Mann said. “I picked my spots as I was playing with four fouls and couldn’t be as aggressive. When the opportunity came to get a bucket, I made sure to make it.”
Mann sparked the offense from the opening tip. He had 7 first-quarter points as the Panthers jumped out to a 16-3 lead. Starr’s Mill spread the ball around as five players scored in the period. This forced Whitewater to call two timeouts to stop their momentum.
After six scoreless minutes, the Wildcats got on the board as senior guard K’won Bush hit a 3-pointer from the wing. However, the damage was done as Whitewater had to climb out of a 13-point deficit.
“We didn’t do a good job in the first half of getting off to a fast start,” Whitewater head coach Matt Martin said. “We were down 7-0 to start the game and we didn’t move the ball offensively and played a lot of one-on-one basketball.”
Starr’s Mill continued to apply pressure in the second quarter. The Panthers increased the lead to 26-10 and forced Whitewater to find a spark. Martin turned to Ndengey as he led the comeback attempt.
Ndengey added 5 points as the offense played through him. He worked inside and kicked the ball out to shooters. Sophomore Javon Jenkins took advantage and drained some mid-range jump shots. Senior C.J. Jackson found confidence with a layup and 2 free throws in the frame.
As a result, Whitewater created momentum heading into halftime down 14 points. In the second half, they stormed back to take the lead. With five minutes remaining, Jenkins hit a 3-pointer to give the Wildcats a 43-42 advantage.
Jenkins finished with 9 points. However, it was the big 3-pointer that helped get the Wildcats into contention.
“We tried to turn up the pressure in the second half,” Martin said. “It worked as it got us in the game. We were deflecting passes and getting steals. We took the lead with a big three by Javon (Jenkins).”
The Whitewater lead didn’t last long. On the next possession, Nate Allison drove to the rim and grabbed momentum back. From there, Mann and junior guard Wes Grant, who had 9 points, took over at the free-throw line.
They exploited the double-bonus and protected the lead. Whitewater couldn’t get closer after missing shots and faltering late.
“This is the third game where we have been in a close game, in the fourth quarter, and we have come up short,” Martin said. “Good playoff teams find a way to win these close games. This is what we are trying to instill in our team.”
Starr’s Mill head coach Charlemagne Gibbons was proud of the win. He was glad to see the team hold on late but stated that more work is still to be done. He wants his guys to learn how to finish games down the stretch.
“It’s understanding how to finish teams off,” Gibbons said. “You don’t finish them off with big haymakers. You have to do it by jabbing and getting rebounds and hitting free throws. Hats off them for fighting back and getting into the game.”
Still, Gibbons was elated to earn another tough region victory. The Panthers now have a couple days of rest before facing Jonesboro on Tuesday night.
“We are 2-0 in the region,” Gibbons said. “If you would’ve asked me what my goals were before Christmas, it would be to be 2-0. We play a good Jonesboro team on Tuesday and we are right where we need to be.”
Whitewater returns to action against Griffin on Saturday. The Bears resemble Starr’s Mill in a lot of ways. Martin hopes the experience of playing close games will help his team get over the hurdle moving forward.
“We got to figure out how to win these close games,” Martin said.
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