West Lowndes’ Averi Sanders attempts to pass the ball to teammate Marvaysha Seals during a game against New Hope on Saturday at West Lowndes High School. West Lowndes defeated New Hope 55-42. Photo by: Jennifer Mosbrucker/Dispatch Staff
November 30, 2019 9:53:35 PM
When West Lowndes senior guard Averi Sanders jumped the passing lane for a steal and a breakaway layup with under a minute to go in the third quarter Saturday, she did more than simply double the Panthers' lead to four points.
She continued to frustrate visiting New Hope, brought her own home crowd to a crescendo and gave West Lowndes the spark it needed.
"That's really what got us motivated and ready to play some defense," West Lowndes coach Takeea Bozeman said.
The Panthers (3-0) held the Trojans (2-3) to just four points in the fourth quarter, sealed the game at the free-throw line and walked out of their home gym with a 55-42 win over their rivals.
"We're feeling great," Bozeman said. "We're feeling great."
New Hope coach Nick Christy, who led the West Lowndes boys team for the past two years, also felt great -- until around halfway through the fourth quarter.
The game was still manageable for the Trojans, facing a three-point deficit, until West Lowndes junior Tydajasha Hood buried a 3-pointer with 4 minutes, 7 seconds to go, and junior Quankeria Halbert followed with a layup. The Trojans, soon forced to foul with under two minutes left and an eight-point deficit, put Hood at the line five times, and she converted on five foul shots in all to ice it, playing through a jammed finger earlier in the quarter.
"I just wanted to win, and I didn't want them to catch back up," Hood said.
Hood achieved her goal and then some, notching a major win for the Class 1A Panthers and ending Christy's homecoming on a sour note.
"It was good to come back," Christy said. "I just definitely wish the outcome would have been a little bit different for us."
It looked that way after New Hope went on an 11-0 run in the first quarter, keyed by six points from senior center Juquala Sherrod alone.
For Christy, who challenged his post player to play with aggression, it was a welcome sight.
"She was able to establish her position on the low block," he said. "She was able to demand the basketball."
But after 10 points in the first half, Sherrod scored just four in the second as the West Lowndes defense clamped down and its pace sped up.
"Because we didn't control our composure, we missed some opportunities to her in the second half," Christy said.
Senior guard India Mays helped the Trojans' effort with 13 points, and Imani Harris contributed seven, but otherwise, West Lowndes' defensive fervor largely paid off against a quick New Hope team.
"Our goal was to hold the ball as long as we could," Bozeman said. "We run the floor. We practice getting back at a quick speed."
That effort in practice showed on the court, and it helped the Panthers to a rivalry win after each school won once last season. The two teams will play again Dec. 9, but for now, West Lowndes will enjoy its victory.
"It feels good," Bozeman said. "We split it last year, so this feels good."
Theo DeRosa reports on high school sports and Mississippi State softball for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.