Lady Hilltoppers fall just short, 43-42
In a game with conference title implications, the R-S Central Lady Hilltoppers (13-8, 7-2 SMAC) gave the Lady Patriots of Freedom (18-2, 9-0 SMAC) all they could handle but fell just short with a 43-42 loss at home Friday night when a Tia Bristol buzzer-beater came from inside of the 3-point line.
"That really isn't [Bristol's] game so I couldn't be mad at her," Central head coach Darius Fuller said of Bristol's final shot. "I wish it would have been a 3 but I'm glad she at least took a shot."
Te’ja Twitty and Alyssia Watkins opened with the first four points of the game before the Patriots offense finally awakened with four minutes left in the quarter.
Madison Ervin capped a 5-0 run for Freedom to give them their first lead of the game at 5-4 with 3:55 left in the opening frame.
Bristol knocked down a jumper from the elbow at the buzzer to give Central an 8-7 lead after the first quarter.
An 8-2 run centered around dominate rebounding propelled Central to a 16-9 lead early in the second quarter.
Freedom cut the lead to four but Aaliyah Davis continued to own the midrange game from the left baseline and sent the lead to 22-12 with just over one minute remaining in the half.
At the end of the first half the Lady Hilltoppers went into the locker room with a 23-15 lead.
The Patriots jumped out on a 6-0 run out of the break to cut the Central lead to just two.
Central struggled against the Freedom press leading to a handful of turnovers before Freedom shrunk the lead to one at 23-22.
A Taylor Miller layup broke the scoreless streak for the Lady Hilltoppers with just over four minutes left in the quarter.
Careless turnovers and poor rebounding allowed Freedom to stay with striking distance until a big steal from Makayla Crawford led to two foul shot for Twitty off the fast break. Twitty, however, was unable to convert at the line missing both shots and the Patriots capitalized on the other end bringing the score to 29-28 in favor of the Hilltoppers heading into the fourth quarter.
With 6:53 left in the game, Freedom’s Tyra Kirkpatrick knotted it up at 29-29 after converting one of two from the free throw line. Imani Williams gave them their first lead at 31-29 on the next possession with a fast break layup.
Twitty wasted no time tying it back up with a low-post bucket for Central.
With Freedom up 35-33, Central’s Watkins entered the game for the first time since midway through the third quarter with four fouls with 4:33 remaining.
"It's tough when [Watkins] is on the bench," Fuller said. "She's definitely a leader and our motor."
Mary Michaux gave Freedom a five-point lead at 38-33 with a corner 3 at the 3:35 mark.
With a 40-35 lead, the Patriots started working the clock. Every Patriot possession consumed at least 30-45 seconds in the final minutes until Central was forced to foul with 1:14 left.
Central converted their free throws while Freedom had trouble converting from the line. Another Davis jumper from the left baseline brought the score to 42-40 with 15 seconds left.
Michaux went to the line for Freedom with six seconds left. After missing her first shot she sank the second to send Freedom up 43-40.
Tia Bristol sprinted down the floor on the inbounds and nailed a running jumper as the clock expired, but it was good for only two points as Freedom held on for the 43-42 win.
"We went cold in the second half and they got hot," Fuller said. "That's really the story of the game."
Miller led the Hilltoppers with nine points, Davis added eight and Twitty had seven to go along with 15 rebounds.
Central return to action Tuesday, Feb. 5 at Patton for a 6 p.m. tip.