Lady Hilltoppers hold off Patton
It wasn’t easy, and at times it wasn’t pretty, but the R-S Central Lady Hilltoppers (9-7, 3-1 SMAC) fended of a pesky Patton Panthers team Tuesday night for a 50-46 conference win.
The Patton (11-5, 2-2 SMAC) defense set the tone early with their full-court press. Central was forced to heave long passes down the court in order to inbound the ball after Panther baskets. Sometimes it worked, other times it led to a turnover.
The Panthers worked back-door cuts to get easy points in the post en route to a 9-5 lead.
Central’s Te’ja Twitty answered with four straight points to tie the game at 9-9 midway through the first quarter.
Each team traded baskets and free throw shots and the tightly-contested first quarter came to a close with the Hilltoppers leading 15-13.
Alyssia Watkins converted 5-of-6 free throw attempts to lead the Hilltoppers.
“[Watkins] has been shooting much better from the line,” Central head coach Darius Fuller said of his senior point guard. “She’s going to the line thinking she’s going to make every shot.”
The second quarter featured much less offensive action. Patton eventually tied the game at 15-15 with 5:05 left in the half.
The Central offense struggled with their primary ball handler, Watkins, relegated to the bench after committing her second foul halfway through the second quarter.
“It definitely changes the way you play when your point guard is on the bench,” Fuller said. “When everyone else is splitting that role things can get sloppy.”
The Lady Hilltoppers found their way to the charity stripe to fuel themselves to a 24-19 halftime lead.
Foul shooting was the difference in the half as Central went 10-of-15 while Patton shot just 3-of-9.
The Patton offense surged out of the break and erased the five-point deficit in under a minute and took a 26-24 lead with 5:55 left in the third quarter.
Twitty and Tia Bristol combined for four quick points to put Central back on top by two with under five minutes remaining in the third.
Patton matched the Hilltoppers point-for-point through the remainder of the quarter and trailed by just two at 36-34 going into the final quarter.
Twitty scored four points out of the timeout to extend the Central lead to six points.
Patton cut the lead to two before Watkins took over with a free throw followed by a steal and an assist to Bristol under the goal for two points and a foul. Bristol converted the three-point play to stretch the Hilltopper lead to 43-37.
Down four at 45-41 with less than 30 seconds remaining, the Panthers were forced to foul.
The Lady Hilltoppers held of the Panthers through the final seconds and secured the 50-46 win.
“The big story from tonight is the play we got from the bench from Sierra Wilkins and Makayla Crawford,” Fuller said. “They didn’t score a lot of points but they did a great job allowing some other players to get some rest.”
Bristol led the charge for Central with 14 points and 12 rebounds while Twitty recorded a double-double as well with 14 points and 10 boards of her own. Watkins and Aaliyah Davis each added seven points apiece.
The Lady Hilltoppers return to the court Friday night to battle Shelby. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m. in Rutherfordton.