Lady Hilltoppers drop heartbreaker to Freedom
It was a clash of SMAC titans Friday night as the RS Central Lady Hilltoppers traveled to Morganton to battle Freedom.
Central (8-7; 2-1 SMAC) controlled most of the contest but turnovers in the final minute and 21 in the game allowed the Lady Patriots (12-2; 3-0 SMAC) to steal a 34-33 win.
“I thought Christmas was over but we gave Freedom a gift tonight,” said Central head coach Darius Fuller after the loss.
Central came out of the gate running. The transition game shot them ahead 6-2 without ever having to get into their half-court set.
Te’Ja Twitty dominated the boards for Central with eight first half rebounds as the Hilltoppers led 126 after the first quarter.
Freedom settled down by the middle of the second quarter and cut the Central lead just three at 1512 with 3:10 left in the first half.
A Freedom 3-pointer and free throw gave the Patriots a 16-15 lead before Taylor Miller converted 2-4 free throws to put Central back on top 17-16. The half would end with the same score.
The third quarter was uneventful until 3:06 left when Central’s Aaliyah Davis ended the scoring drought with a fast break layup.
The Hilltoppers ended the quarter on a 7-0 run to head into the fourth quarter holding a 26-20 advantage.
Freedom opened the fourth on a 6-3 run behind Imani Williams to cut the Central lead to 29-26 with 5:25 left in the final quarter.
Each team traded missed layups on consecutive possessions from the three-minute to the twominute mark as Central clung to a 33-30 lead.
Central committed a costly backcourt violation after beating the Patriot press with 38 seconds left and Williams took advantage with two free throws.
Central squandered another possession and turned it back over to Freedom as they brought the ball back up the court.
Freedom’s Sarah Yamouti put Freedom on top for the first time since the first half with a layup that gave the Patriots a 34-33 lead with 10 seconds left.
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Central struggled with the inbound and called a timeout with 6.7 seconds left to regroup.
Alyssia Watkins and Twitty each got good looks at the basket but they both missed the mark as time expired giving Freedom the 34-33 win.
“I preach mental toughness to the girls all the time but there’s nothing I can do to simulate that type of situation in practice,” said Fuller. “We just need to play extremely well the rest of the way if we want to repeat as conference champs.”
Bristol led Central with 10 points and five rebounds while Twitty netted nine points while hauling in 18 rebounds.