No. 18 seed Walter M. Williams scored a 74-60 upset at No. 15 Harnett Central in the first round of the NCHSAA 3-A girls basketball state playoffs on Tuesday night.
“We struggle against pressure,” said Harnett Central coach Chelsey Cabe. “As strong as (junior point guard) Brittany (Mills) is, she’s got to have help. And I tell Brittany sometimes it’s on her, too, because she’s got to run the show. But at the end of the day, she’s got to have somebody that she’s confident in giving the ball to and that comes from them being confident in getting the ball. She can’t do it all by herself. And there’s glimpses where we do move the ball to the middle and then we pivot and we pass to the backside and we get up the floor and have a wide-open layup. And then it’s like all of a sudden, we forget that and we get in a hurry again.
“But playing against pressure defense is definitely something we’ve got to work on in the offseason. And the other thing is, they’re not conditioned to run with a team that gets the ball out and sprints back up the floor. And maybe that’s partly on me, but you need to be conditioned when the season starts or maybe that’s what you need to do at the beginning of the season. We’ve just got to play better against pressure.”
Walter M. Williams is coached by former N.C. State women’s basketball star Andrea Stinson.
The Trojans (18-6) got nearly half of their scoring from junior Syniah McMiller, who led all scorers with 29 points.
Juniors Brittany Mills and Lya Molyneaux also scored in double figures, with 14 points apiece.
“Syniah played an amazing game,” Cabe said. “Syniah had 29, Lya had 14 and Brittany had 14. Lya hit some really big shots. I just wish that she would get more confident with the ball.”
Junior Jamia Harrington had two points and lone senior Madeline Langdon had one point.
The Bulldogs (16-10) had three players score in double figures. Sophomore Jahmaria Miles and senior Tia Tucker had 20 points apiece and junior Talaya Smith had 11 points.
Cabe said Williams’ depth was also a factor in the loss.
“That kills you,” Cabe said. “They have 13 girls and I have nine that have been on varsity since the beginning (sophomores KeErica Snead and Ellie Smith were called up from junior varsity for the postseason). That’s rough. It’s hard to simulate a lot of things in practice, as well, when you don’t have those numbers.”
Williams opened the game on a 9-2 run before Central rallied with an 8-3 run to cut the lead to two. Holding a 17-16 lead late in the first, the Bulldogs ended the quarter with five unanswered points, with Lauren Lloyd banking in a three at the buzzer for a 22-16 lead.
Central scored 10 unanswered points to start the second quarter and take a 26-22 lead. But late in the quarter, Central held a 33-30 lead when Williams finished the quarter on a 9-0 run to lead 39-33 at halftime.
Central struggled to find any offense in the third quarter, as the Bulldogs outscored the Trojans 14-7 in the quarter. But the quarter ended with Mills beating the buzzer with a long-range three-pointer.
Central found its offense again in the fourth, but was unable to cut into Williams’ lead, as the Bulldogs outscored the Trojans 21-20 in the final frame.
The loss ends Harnett Central’s season and the high school basketball career of lone senior Madeline Langdon.
“Madeline gives everything that she has,” Cabe said. “She’s a leader, silently. She doesn’t have to say anything. The girls lean on her because they know that she’ll give her honest opinion and she plays three seasons (Langdon also plays volleyball and soccer). She’ll do anything that you ask her to. She’s a great girl and we’ll really miss her, but I know that she’s going to be successful in whatever she does. She’s a role player. You can always depend on her.”
With nearly the entire team returning, including all of the leading scorers, and some promising minutes from some of the younger members of the team, Harnett Central could potentially have a strong outlook for next season, but Cabe said success will not come without the Trojans putting in the proper level of work in the offseason.
“I’ve told the girls I want to meet with each of them, individually, to talk about what they need to work on,” Cabe said. “If we really want to get better as a team, if we want to go more than tying Union Pines for a conference championship and if we want to do more than just making it to the conference tournament championship and the state tournament first round, I’ve got to have more than just three girls that score, three girls that know the plays.
“Well, I have four, and then there’s that fifth man that I never know who its going to be that night. It might be Shynice (Raines) when she comes in. It might be Jo’Nese (Monroe) when she comes in. It might be any of these different people. But I’ve got to have more than four girls that can be consistent night in and night out. And that doesn’t come during the games. That comes in preseason and that comes in practice. That will be the biggest thing. I need a full team I can rely on.”
Walter M. Williams travels to second-seeded Rocky Mount (22-4) for the second round of the playoffs on Thursday.