Northwest Girls Edge Out Overtime Victory Over Dudley in Sectional Finals
There was no doubt that the NCHSAA Girls 4A West Sectional was going to be a physical matchup. Showcasing two Guilford county teams, the contest was set for Roger L. Nelson Gymnasium on the campus of the No. 1-ranked and undefeated Northwest Guilford Vikings. Their opponent, the Dudley Panthers, were fresh off an overtime victory over West Forsyth on Thursday night which surely gave the Panthers momentum. They would need all the momentum and physicality they could find to win on Saturday night.
The contest proved to be everything it was anticipated to be and more.
Northwest controlled the opening tip-off and also got on the scoreboard first on a basket by Bria Gibbs. The two teams played very physically and battled back and forth for the entirety of the first quarter. Cayla King gave Northwest a boost with 9 points in the first frame. The freshman hit two three-pointers, one with just seven seconds remaining in the quarter, and connected on an old fashioned three point play. After the first eight minutes, the Vikings lead by a mere two points, 13-11.
In the second quarter, the Vikings really began to pull away. The Panthers tied the game for the second time for the opening basket in the quarter, but shortly after, the Vikings took control. They were once again led in scoring by the freshman, King, and led Dudley by 13 points at the end of the first half. It appeared that Northwest had taken control of the game and Dudley had little chance to stop them.
Northwest had won their last two games by a total of 82 points, and Dudley appeared to be on their way to a blowout loss at the hands of the top-seeded Vikings.
The second half began and the Panthers couldn’t stop Northwest from scoring. The Vikings increased their double-digit halftime lead to a peak of 18 points, with the score 44-26 with four minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Vikings had just finished a 1:17, 8-0 spurt that gave them the 18 point lead, when Dudley head coach Frank McNeil called a timeout.
“I told them to get tough, stay the course, and play our brand of basketball and we’ll be successful,” McNeil said of his message to his Lady Panthers.
The timeout was a turning point in the game. Dudley got tough and stepped up the physicality in an already physical game. They played a brand of basketball that they hadn’t been playing until that moment. The Panthers finished the third quarter on a 12-0 run that trimmed the Vikings’ lead to six points—44-38.
Dudley’s Kiara Harrison made some key baskets following the boost from Coach McNeil with four minutes remaining in the third. The Panthers also got help from Teara Johnson, who had been injured when she ran into a screen and was leveled in the first half. Johnson drove the lane and began making jump shots on the perimeter, bringing her team back into the game.
“I’m going to tell you what, that’s the Tasmanian devil,” McNeil said of Johnson. “She’s the smallest thing on the court, but boy, she has so much fight in her. I’ve never seen a kid with so much fight, and I’m glad that I have her on my team.”
Led by Johnson, Harrison, and 6’3” Kelena Morris, the Panthers fought the Vikings tooth and nail in the fourth quarter. The two teams traded baskets early and stepped up to play unmatchable defense late in the quarter when they really needed it. After Dudley had pulled within one point with 5:48 remaining in the game, Northwest’s freshman guard King made three steals in four Dudley possessions to help her team jump back out to a six point lead—the biggest by either team in the quarter—56-50, with 4:44 left in regulation.
Neither team scored for almost two minutes until Dudley’s Morris went to the free throw line to shoot one and one. Morris made the first free throw and missed the second. The Panthers trailed by five. The next basket was a three-pointer by the “Tasmanian devil”, Teara Johnson, with 1:46 left in the game, bringing Dudley within two. The Panthers were forced to foul and put Northwest senior Hayley Barber on the free throw line for one and one with 1:18 to play. Barber made the first and missed the second, but her teammate Morgan Pointer was there to get the rebound, and lay the basket in to go up by five.
On the ensuing Dudley possession, Morris made a lay-in. She obtained the ball by way of an offensive rebound when the Panthers drove back down the court with 35 seconds left, and converted an old-fashioned three point play to bring her team back within one point. Dudley fouled Barber once again, and again she made one of two free throws. The Panthers got the rebound, and Victoria Harrison hit a three pointer to give Dudley the lead for the first time since they led 11-10 with 14 seconds left in the first quarter. There were six seconds left when Vikings’ King was fouled and went to the free throw line to shoot two free throws, giving her team the opportunity to obtain a one-point lead. King made one of two, and Dudley couldn’t score before the clock expired. Incredibly, the teams were knotted at 62 and headed to overtime.
Dudley’s Johnson scored the first basket of the overtime period, but Northwest ended up going on a minute and ten second, 7-0 spurt that gave them the advantage in the extra frame. The Panthers were down and ran out time in their comeback attempt. The Vikings persisted in overtime to win by a score of 75-69.
Northwest head coach Darlene Joyner said her team was prepared for the third matchup of the year with Dudley and praised her teams’ efforts.
“It’s tough to beat a team three times,” Joyner said. “It’s kind of like a conference game. You have already seen them twice, so you play a little chess game out there. I thought his kids played well and I thought my kids responded well.”
She also spoke highly of freshman Cayla King, who finished the night with 26 points and left her imprint on the game.
“Cayla adds a lot to this team,” Joyner said. “She’s young; she’s a freshman, but doesn’t play like a freshman. She handles the ball for us, shoots the ball well for us. She’s one of our better defensive players. She’s 5’10” and has that big wingspan, so we put her in a lot of the tougher matchups.”
King stepped up in those tougher matchups on Saturday night and talked about her improvement throughout the season.
“I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable since the beginning of the season,” the youthful King said. “I feel like the beginning of the year I gave the ball up to the seniors and now I feel like I’m playing the way I can play. I feel lucky to be playing with these girls because they’re really good. It’s good to be playing with them my freshman year.”
The Vikings advance to the quarterfinals of the Girls 4A NCHSAA basketball playoffs with the victory. Dudley finishes the season with a final record of 20-8.
Dudley’s season is over, but McNeil stressed how much he enjoyed coaching this group of girls.
“This is probably the best team that I’ve ever coached,” he said afterward. “This group of young ladies, they just want to please the coach, and do everything the coach asks them to do. I just applaud them. I cannot be sad. I’m sad that we lost and we’re not moving on, but it’s something to hang your hat on. This is a true legacy that they left behind.”