Too little too late
Head coach Darius Fuller knew that Tuesday night's matchup with Crest would come down to free throws, and shooting 11-30 from the free throw line was what doomed his lady Hilltoppers in a 68-66 home loss to the Lady Chargers.
"We worked on free throws for 30 minutes in yesterday's practice," said Fuller. "I told them it would be a game of free throws. I was right. I'm not right often, but I was right about this."
Central got on the board first but an 8-2 run by Crest put them on top 8-4 in the early stages.
The Lady Hilltoppers answered with a 9-2 run of their own highlighted by a Taylor Miller three-pointer to regain a 13-10 lead with 2:30 remaining in the first quarter.
Central converted only one of four free throws to close the quarter and Crest took advantage with five quick points to hold a 15-14 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Central point guard Alyssia Watkins took over with 5:30 left in the half with a steal that led to a coast-to-coast layup to put Central up 18-16. The she found Tia Bristol under the basket with a half-court bounce pass to extend the lead to 20-16 and forced Crest to take a timeout with just over five minutes remaining.
Over the next three minutes, Central anemic from the charity stripe. Despite getting the Lady Chargers into foul trouble, the Lady Hilltoppers failed to convert at the free throw line.
Watkins took it into her own hands and kept Central in the contest with four points in the final minute, but the Lady Hilltoppers trailed 34-31 entering halftime.
Watkins had eight points in the first half despite going just 1-6 from the free throw line in the second quarter.
Central opened the third quarter on a 7-0 run capped by Miller’s second deep ball of the game.
The rest of the third was sloppy for both teams as they traded fouls and turnovers.
Watkins continued to struggle from the line and the half ended with Crest leading 43-42.
Up 46-42, the Lady Chargers slowed the pace of the game and milked the clock for all it was worth, until Miller drained another three pointer to cut the deficit to just one with five minutes left.
Christian Godlock scored an offensive rebound with 3:20 left to tie the score, 48-48.
A Bristol basket and a Watkins deep ball annulled the effects from a three-point trip by Crest to capture a 53-52 lead with 1:45 left in the game.
Now it was time for the Lady Hilltoppers to hold the ball.
After forcing a Crest miss, Central drained 30 seconds from the clock before calling a timeout.
Out of the break the Hilltoppers passed around the ball as another 20 seconds ticked away. Crest was forced to foul with 25 seconds left in the game.
Before Bristol had a chance to inbound the ball, Te'ja Twitty was called for a foul and Crest claimed possession.
Adiya Ussery drove to the basket and put Crest on top, 54-53, with just 19 seconds left.
On the inbound, Watkins charged to the basket and drew the foul to head to the line with 7.8 seconds left on the clock.
Watkins’ struggles continued as her first shot failed to even hit the rim. However, with the pressure on, she hit nothing but net on the second shot to tie the score, 54-54.
"At the end if the game you want the ball in the hands of your best players, and she's one of them," Fuller said in spite of Watkins' troubles at the line. "I'm going to ride with her."
Crest got a shot away as the clock expired but it missed the cylinder and the game was sent to overtime.
Crest charged out of the gate and went on a 6-1 run to open the overtime period.
Central had no answer for Ussery and the Lady Chargers and eventually fell in a close one, 68-66.
Bristol led Central with 19 points and eight rebounds while Watkins had 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
Miller had nine points, Davis had eight and Twitty added seven points and nine boards.
The Lady Hilltoppers return to action tonight against Kings Mountain. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m.