Friday marked the beginning of the Woodrow Wilson girls basketball team’s toughest stretch of the season, with four out of five games against ranked opponents.
Head coach Brian Nabors left the locker room Saturday smiling, relieved with the results thus far.
Following a Friday trip to Ona, where the No. 7-ranked Lady Flying Eagles knocked off No. 2 Cabell Midland, they returned home Saturday, winning a thriller 62-50 over the No. 3-ranked team in Class AAA, rival Greenbrier East.
Though the court was littered with all-staters in Victoria Staunton, Liz Cadle, Emma Dotson and Haley McClure, it was Woodrow freshman Keanti Thompson who made the most important plays down the stretch.
Trailing 49-48 with under four minutes left, the freshman came up with a steal and finished on a layup through contact to give Woodrow a 50-49 lead. After a free throw knotted things up for East, Thompson made waves again on back-to-back plays, grabbing a rebound on a block, racing the length of the court and dishing out to an open Cadle for three. The next time down the court she came up with a steal, navigated through traffic and found Cadle again for an open layup to put Woodrow up 55-50 with 2:18 remaining.
“Keanti is a very talented player,” Nabors said. “We have high expectations for her and she’s starting to come into her own and adjust to high school basketball. I’m hoping tonight boosts her confidence and she realizes she can play big-time minutes and make big-time plays against a big-time program in Greenbrier East.”
Though foul trouble throughout the game opened playing time for others outside of Thompson.
For Woodrow, starters Staunton and Jamara Walton missed much of the second quarter with two fouls while East was forced to shuffle players in and out and sometimes just play through it. That led to a chippy game in which tensions rose, resulting in players needing to be separated on two occasions.
Combined, the two teams shot 65 free throws, 32 for Woodrow and 33 for East.
“We knew it’d be a physical game,” Greenbrier East head coach and West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said. “We made one three all night. We’ve just got a lot of mistakes. Too many turnovers, but you’ve just got to give them a lot of credit. They’ve had a really good week.”
“We talked about being poised and keeping our heads,” Nabors said. “To me, situations like that where elbows are thrown and things might be said, the bottom line is we’ve got to play the game. It’s not a wrestling match or a boxing match, it’s a basketball game and the physicality comes in with aggressive play, boxing out and playing tough defense and offense — all the fundamentals. Speaking for our team we’ve got to maintain composure and keep our poise.”
Despite the even foul shot attempts, the Flying Eagles raced to a 31-22 halftime lead, extending their lead to 12 early in the second half.
Turnovers and free throws eventually aided the Lady Spartans as they slowly chipped away, but a foul called against East’s leading scorer, Amya Damon, with 1:18 left in the third quarter was the sophomore’s fifth, forcing East to find its way without her.
“We needed her ball handling skills and speed and it made it really tough when she fouled out there,” Justice said. “She was all we had. We’re 10 or 11 down, we had to play her. That’s all there is to it. If we had said we could get back in the game without her, are you kidding me? She was all we had going at that time.”
Still, Justice’s squad answered the call behind the all-stater McClure, who scored five straight to cut the deficit to three heading into the fourth. Afterward, the visitors started piling on, taking a four-point lead twice, but ceded it when Thompson made the game’s winning plays.
In the loss, East made just 17 of its 33 foul shots. Woodrow made 22 of 32.
“We’ve shot bad from the foul line for too long and there’s no need for it,” Justice said. “We’re good shooters and we work on it and practice it all the time. If you can’t make it when it’s crunch time that’s not very good.”
Now Woodrow will turn its attention to No. 10 Huntington on Tuesday before the Big Atlantic Classic, where it will play Morgantown and then either Class A No. 3 Summers County or Class AAA No. 6 George Washington.
“Our goal is to continue to win,,” Nabors said. “I thought our seniors Liz and Victoria led by example tonight and last night. We think all of them know what they need to do in terms of staying focused, having that mindset and being ready at all times to overcome any type of adversity. We’re going to be faced with adversity and we’ve got to be able to respond to it and I thought tonight was a prime example of us responding to adversity.”
Email: email@example.com and follow on Twitter @TjackRH
Greenbrier East (11-2)
Amya Damon 16, Emma Dotson 8, Taylor Dunbar 4, Kate Perkins 7, Haley McClure 10, Cadence Stewart 5
Woodrow Wilson (9-2)
Cloey Frantz 10, Victoria Staunton 10, Liz Cadle 17, Jamara Walton 8, Keanti Thompson 2, Lataja Creasey 1, Olivia Ziolkowski 11, Sierra Conley 3
GE: 6 16 18 10 — 50
WW: 14 17 12 19 — 62
3-pointer — GE: 1 (Stewart); WW: 4 (Frantz 2, Cadle 1, Conley 1). Fouled Out — GE: Damon, Dunbar.