by Riley Hicks & Christopher Dunn
With Christmas under a month away, basketball fans got an early present with Whitewater hosting McIntosh in the opener of region play in thrilling fashion Friday night.
“It was great for the fans, and our student section was wonderful,” said Lady Wildcats coach Rashad Muhyee of his team’s double overtime win.
“I’m just drained. I’ve got a headache that’s been killing me since the fourth quarter,” he joked at the conclusion of a wild game that took coming from behind twice and two overtimes for the Lady Wildcats to defeat the Chiefs 59-55. It took the efforts of every player to pull out the win.
“We can go down the line with everybody contributing tonight,” he said, singling out key buckets late from Maya Bryant, rebounds from Martina Takang, a crucial steal by Cambria Caliendo, and huge free throws from Mariah McCastle among the most important plays. “Everybody contributed in some form or fashion.”
In the first quarter, the Wildcats and Chiefs traded baskets with neither team able to gain any separation. McIntosh took an 11-10 lead into the second frame, but the story remained the same. McIntosh gathered steam going into the half after Trinity Jalloh hit a three at the buzzer for their largest lead of game at five with the score 25-20 at the break.
Looking to shift the momentum back to their side, Whitewater opened the third with a 5-0 run to tie the game up at 25. The Chiefs answered quickly to head into the final frame up 33-28.
The game seemed to be in the hands of McIntosh as the clock wound down in the fourth. All McIntosh needed to do was successfully make their free throws to seal the win, but inconsistency at the line kept Whitewater alive. That’s when the Wildcats leaned on three-year starters Courtney Smith and Jada Claude.
“The team didn’t panic,” said Muhyee. “Courtney and Jada have been playing since they were freshmen, so nothing really bothers them anymore. They’ve gone through enough to understand the game is never over.”
Whitewater was rejuvenated after they missed two free throws, but Claude pulled down the rebound and recovered to make a quick two-pointer. Following a couple of key stops of defense, Smith found herself back on the free throw line where she converted both to cut the lead to 42-39 with 14 seconds left.
McIntosh needed to get the ball inbounds to wind down the clock, but Cambria Caliendo stole it away and drew a foul. She sank one of her freebies to close to gap down to two. After a quick foul on the other end, McIntosh once again missed both free throws, and Smith drove to the basket and laid it in to tie the game at 42-42 to send it into overtime.
Smith struggled most of the night, not making a jump shot until the fourth quarter, but the pressure Claude draws from the defense allowed her to get to the hoop at will.
“What it did for Courtney, because she could drive and get to the line, is knocking down some free throws got her in a rhythm,” said Muhyee. “She was making easy baskets, and now all of a sudden that basket got a little bigger.”
Claude got plenty for herself with another double-double, but that ability to make life easier for her teammates doesn’t show up on the stat sheet.
“I tell Courtney all the time people are going to double Jada because she’s big and she can finish, so you’ve got to be the reason they don’t want to,” he said. “Teams have to pick their poison. Which one do you want to beat you?”
The Chiefs took control of the first overtime early, but the never say die attitude still lived inside the Wildcats. McIntosh went into slowdown mode and burned more than a minute off the clock with one possession to leave just under a minute for Whitewater to play with. Down 47-44, a Claude putback with 7 seconds cut the deficit to one. McIntosh converted one of its free throws and left just enough time for Whitewater to tie the game once more. Smith took the ball the length of the court and drew a foul with half a second remaining. She went to the line and made both her free throws to send the game into a second overtime.
“She just got up there and didn’t even think about it,” Muhyee said of his point guard’s composure in the clutch.
In the second overtime, Maya Bryant joined the scoring parade as the Chiefs continued to double Claude and leave her open.
“At the end, we had Maya on the backside, so when they double-teamed Jada and put someone on Courtney, they left Maya wide open underneath the goal. All she had to do was catch and lay it in,” said Muhyee. “You’ve only got five players out there, so you’ve got to let one of them go.”
McIntosh tried to battle back in late, but foul trouble ended the night for multiple players on both sides, and the Wildcats were able to salt away the clock and win 59-55.
Jada Claude paced the Wildcats with a ridiculous stat line of 21 points, 23 rebounds, and 5 steals. Courtney Smith posted 19 points and 6 assists. Maya Bryant added 8 points and 10 rebounds.
Kennedy Miller led the Chiefs with 19 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 steals. Rylee Calhoun posted 12 points and 8 rebounds. Claire Lewis added 8 rebounds.
Whitewater followed it up with a 44-37 win over Pike County Saturday afternoon. Claude posted 20 points and 13 rebounds, Courtney Smith scored 17, and Maya Bryant added 8 rebounds.
McIntosh lost to Lambert 56-34 Saturday.
In the boys game, McIntosh had no interest in extending the long night. They used a suffocating full-court press to build up a huge lead early and cruise to a 73-49 victory.
The game started at a frantic pace heavy on missed shots. Isaiah Claude crashed the glass as the Wildcats started in front 4-2.
The press started to get to the Cats, and the Chiefs started launching from deep. Andrew Pinckney and Alex Stowman sank threes, and Chaz Hardin hit a pair of treys as they ripped off a 19-1 run.
K’won Bush hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to end the run, but his Cats still trailed 21-8 at the end of the first quarter.
“To be successful, we’ve got to play with a lot of energy. I think tonight was our most complete game,” said McIntosh coach Jason Eisele. “We had a spurt in the first half where the energy was contagious. When we play with that energy, I think that we all play better.”
Hardin was feeling the positive vibe when he got to the hoop for two to open the second and celebrated with a little strut. Stowman’s three-point play and another Hardien 3-pointer kept the Chiefs up with a comfortable 38-20 lead at the half.
Naj Ashley-Emory came out of the break scorching hot, scoring the first six points. Cole Guenther brought the crowd to their feet with a vicious dunk as the lead ballooned to 46-23.
Whitewater kept pushing despite the gap. Copeland Jackson and Joshua Lanier each got the rack and converted the and-one, but a Mills Berry three cooled off the momentum and sent it into the fourth at a 57-33 tally.
Justin Stewart had a big second half for Whitewater, scoring all of his team-leading 11 points after the break. His three-point play early in the fourth gave a spark to the Cats, but the gap was too wide. The young Chiefs saw big minutes down the stretch, including Cameron Lyons who added a slick spin and bucket, as they ran away for the 73-49 win.
Hardin led the Chiefs with 13 points, and Ashley-Emory posted 12 points as 11 Chiefs scored.
“Our strength is in our numbers. We’ve got a lot of good, interchangeable pieces,” said Eisele. “We don’t have a lot of big egos on our team, so they know they’re going to share time, and we’re working making sure they embrace that.”
Stewart paced the Wildcats with 11 points, and Bush scored 10. Omar Ndengey added 8 points and 5 rebounds. Isaiah Claude pulled down 6 rebounds.
McIntosh continued their winning ways with a 97-91 overtime win over Lambert Saturday afternoon to run their record to 4-0. Cole Guenther led the way with 22 points and 10 rebounds, Bruce Carpenter scored 21 and grabbed 10 rebounds, and Hardin added 18 points.
“We’ve still got a lot of improving to do,” said Eisele. “I’m pleased with where we are right now, but we’ve got to keep going.”
Whitewater bounced back with a 53-40 win over Pike County. Copeland Jackson led the way with 12 points, Joshua Lanier scored 12 and pulled down 10 rebounds, and Omar Ndengey added 10 points.
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