ALLEN — Sometimes coaching success is all about your point of view.
First-year Roff head man Scott Morgan seemed relatively pleased with everything but the outcome after his Lady Tigers dropped a 56-46 decision to Class A No. 11 Strother in the opening round of the S.T.A.R. Tournament Tuesday at Allen High School.
“Some of my kids are stepping up at the right time,” Morgan said after watching his scrappy but undersized club keep the Lady Jackets in their sights for most of the game before Strother drew off in the final minute.
A couple of hours later, another first-year coach, Tupelo’s Brian Davis, was less enthusiastic after his group of Lady Tigers defeated the OKC Knights, 54-49, in overtime in a game that was the highlight of a first round marked by lopsided victories by the favorites.
“Everybody played about average,” Davis said. “But it’s always nice to get a win this time of year.”
Tuesday’s victory earned Tupelo a date with tournament top seed Stonewall — ranked No. 7 in Class A — in Thursday’s first girls semifinal at 7:40 p.m., while Strother advanced to a meeting with 13-2 Allen (No. 19 in Class A), in the other semifinal contest at 9 p.m. Roff, meanwhile, will play Caney today at 5 p.m. in a loser’s bracket contest, with the winner of that game to meet the winner of a 7:40 p.m. contest between Moyers and the OKC Knights for the girls consolation title (at 5 p.m. Thursday).
Tupelo 54, OKC Knights 49 (OT)
OKC’s Kenzie Heidelberg had a chance to win the game in regulation, but she missed the second of two free throws with 12.2 seconds left. Kendra Pearce and Brittanie Williams then combined for nine points in overtime as Tupelo (12-7) outscored the taller Knights, 11-6.
Williams, whose emergence as a third scorer to complement Pearce and Katie Campbell has been a major reason for Tupelo’s success this season (after an eight-win campaign in 2004-2005), scored 12 points Tuesday, and she finally gave the Lady Tigers the lead for good with a 12-foot baseline jumper off a Pearce assist 90 seconds into the extra period.
Emily Tunnell had a chance to tie the game for OKC 18 seconds later, but, like Heidelberg, she missed the second of two free throws, and Desiree Bell found Katelyn Roberts for a layup with 1:35 left to give Tupelo some breathing room at 47-44. Pearce answered a pair of free throws by Nicole Naugle — OKC’s 6-1 center — with a 16-footer off a Williams assist with 1:02 to play, and Tupelo’s lead grew to five when Williams sank two free throws to make it 51-46 with 41.2 seconds remaining.
Pearce, who had 11 of her game-high 20 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, then hit 3-of-4 free throws down the stretch — including a pair with 2.8 seconds left that finally put the game away.
Despite the Knights’ decided height advantage, the Lady Tigers outrebounded OKC, 38-30, led for most of the game and never trailed by more than four points. Pearce hit three buckets to key an 8-0 Tupelo run after OKC went up, 33-29, on a 3-pointer by Kayla Meeks just 25 seconds into the fourth quarter, and Bell — who scored seven points before fouling out later in the period — capped the spurt with a layup at the 4:40 mark to give the Lady Tigers their biggest lead since early in the second half at 37-33.
But OKC answered with a 6-0 run of its own over the next minute to go back on top, and the game see-sawed for the remainder of regulation. Tupelo took its last lead of the fourth quarter on Campbell’s driving layup with 1:34 left, and the Lady Tigers got only one more shot — Pearce’s turnaround six-footer that lipped off the rim at the buzzer — the rest of the way.
Tupelo committed 26 turnovers in the game, but the Lady Tigers’ pressure defense forced 22 OKC miscues, and the Knights were only 12-of-23 from the free throw line in the game. Naugle, who finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds, was only 6-for-14 from the field, with all of her misses from point-blank range, and OKC as a team hit just 17 of 49 shots.
“I was surprised our man defense gave them as much trouble as it did, because they’re so much taller than we are,” Davis said.
Pearce took only three shots and scored just four points in a first half that ended with Tupelo up, 20-17, but Williams scored six points and Campbell added five of her nine points before intermission.
“Kendra has to shoot the ball more than that if we’re going to win,” Davis said. “She’s our go-to player, and she has to be more assertive.”
Despite her relatively quiet first half, Pearce had one of her best all-around games of the season with 13 rebounds, four steals and four assists to go with her 20 points, and Campbell just missed a double-double of her own, pulling down 10 rebounds and adding five assists and three steals to her nine points.
Meeks, who had 11 of her 14 points after intermission, scored five of OKC’s 13 points in the third quarter as the Knights took a 30-29 lead into the fourth, but she and Naugle were really the only options for their team offensively in the second half, combining for 21 of the Knights’ final 32 points.
Strother 56, Roff 46
Strother (15-3) led by as many as 11 points in the second quarter and by 14 (34-20) early in the third, but Roff (7-9) kept mounting comebacks.
After a pair of Jenny Crelia free throws gave the Lady Jackets their biggest lead of the game with 5:31 left in the third quarter, Roff scored 10 straight points to make it 34-30 on Kayla Balthrop’s conventional 3-point play at the 2:40 mark.
Megan Odom, a 5-3 guard who pulled down six rebounds — several of them in key spots — to go with a team-high 14 points and who went 4-for-6 from beyond the arc, ignited the Lady Tigers’ run with her third 3-pointer of the game just 15 seconds after Crelia’s free throws, and she also had assists on baskets by McKenzie Phillips and C. J. Horton during the Roff run.
The Lady Tigers trimmed the lead to two at 40-38 when Odom drained a 3-pointer from the corner with 5:30 to play, but Roff managed just one field goal — Horton’s layup with 1:42 left — the rest of the way while committing several key turnovers down the stretch.
“We have to block out and protect the ball better,” Morgan said. “If we had done that, we could have won.”
Roff still trailed only 46-42 after Phillips — who finished with 13 points, five rebounds, two steals and an assist in a performance that, considering the competition, might have been her best of the season — sank a pair of free throws with 2:29 to play, but Strother scored 10 of the game’s final 14 points (six by Crelia) to finally put the Lady Tigers away.
Although the Lady Tigers were just 14-of-36 from the field and Odom and Phillips were the only two Roff players in double figures, Balthrop scored seven of her nine points in the second half, including a pair of baskets on highlight-reel baseline drives for layups, and Jessica Bacon had six points and a team-high seven rebounds.
Crelia and Tabitha Lairson had 14 points apiece to lead Strother, and April Wallace (11 points, six rebounds, six assists and five steals) and Felesia Walker (10 points, seven rebounds, six steals and two assists) were also in double figures in the win.
ALLEN — Sometimes coaching success is all about your point of view.