Triton’s varsity girls basketball team started strong before visiting Tri-County Six 3-A Conference and Harnett County rival Harnett Central rallied, but the Hawks were able to edge the Trojans for a 43-39 win on Tuesday night.
“We were doing everything to game plan when we were getting that good lead,” said Triton coach Wendy Simmons. “I don’t know how the switch went, but it went off and it took us a while to turn it back on. But I’m glad we did. We didn’t give up and eventually we did want it more than they did.”
Harnett Central coach Chelsey Cabe said a flat start and miscues were costly for the Trojans.
“We just made a lot of poor decisions,” Cabe said. “When you’re up by seven with 3:30 to go, you don’t need three turnovers in a row. Just a little bit of lack of knowledge or thought process there. Panicking and rushing when we shouldn’t. But we came out really flat. I always stress defense and when you come out playing defense like we did in the first half, nothing’s going to fall for you offensively. We missed our first three wide open layups to dig ourselves into a whole. Not to take away the fact that Triton came out and played hard and they were focused. And we just weren’t.”
Harnett Central had not played since Jan. 15, due to quarantining for COVID-19.
Simmons cited the play of junior Tristan Ennis as a major factor in the win for the Hawks (7-1, 4-1 TCSC). Ennis had a double-double, with 14 points, 11 rebounds and four steals.
“Definitely did everything that we needed her to do,” Simmons said. “She did everything we asked her to, to the game plan, to the T. Dot the I’s. Cross the T’s. She played incredible. Probably the best game I’ve seen her play since she started playing basketball here. And I’m hopeful that we’re going to keep seeing more and more of that, that she is now settling in with confidence and seeing what kind of ball player she really is.”
Sophomore Abby Hood was also a leading performer for Triton, with 13 points and eight rebounds.
“I was just boxing out and trying to find an open spot,” Hood said. “And whenever they would give it to me, I would drive it and go for it.”
A’Shari Watlington had six points, six rebounds and three assists. Kaila Cooney had five points and seven rebounds. Anastasia McDonald had three points, three rebounds and three assists. Aubree Bass had two points and four rebounds.
A pair of seniors led the Trojans (2-1, 0-1) in scoring. Lya Molyneaux had 15 points and Syniah McMiller had 13 points.
Brittany Mills had eight points. Keke Snead had two points. Shynice Raines had one point.
As Triton’s main post players, Ennis and Hood were tasked with containing McMiller, Central’s prolific inside threat.
“We tried to double team her and keep a hand up,” Hood said. “Challenge the shot and make it hard.”
“We called it a ‘sandwich,’” Ennis said. “Abby was in front of her, I was behind her and she wasn’t getting the basketball and she wasn’t getting any easy shots. We knew that was one thing that happened to us a lot last year against them, was they fed it to her a lot. So, tonight was making sure that didn’t happen.”
Triton started the game with a 12-3 run that ran through the first quarter into the second quarter and led by as much as 13, at 25-12 midway through the second quarter.
“We played them at their place last year and beat them,” Ennis said. “In that game, we started out real strong and they got down on themselves a lot. So, I knew if we came in with a lot of heart and a lot of hustle, that they would get down on themselves quicker.”
Central finished the second quarter with six unanswered points to trail 25-18 at halftime.
“You can’t let a team score 25 points in a half,” Cabe said. “You can’t tell me you’re playing defense. We weren’t talking on defense. We weren’t talking in transition. We didn’t have our hands up. We let girls drive around us. We didn’t play our principles. We just didn’t play in the first half. The fact that we were only down by seven at halftime, I told them they were fortunate.”
Central opened the third quarter with a 9-2 run, tying the game 27-27 on a free throw from Raines before Hood hit a three to end the run and put Triton back in front. But with Triton leading 32-29, Central finished the third quarter with six unanswered points to lead 35-32.
“We got too comfortable and started to doubt ourselves,” Hood said. “We started playing lazy and then we realized, ‘Hey, we’re better. We can win this.’”
After McMiller scored to extend the lead to five, a pair of threes from Cooney and Watlington put the Hawks back in front. Central retook the lead on a pair of McMiller free throws, but an old-fashioned three-point play from Ennis with just under 1:00 left in the fourth gave Triton the lead back for good. After a defensive stop, Hood made a pair of free throws to push the lead to four and Triton’s defense held off the Trojans down the stretch.
Harnett Central won the junior varsity boys game 35-29. There was no varsity boys game because Triton’s varsity boys are quarantining for COVID-19. That game is scheduled to be made up at 6 p.m. Saturday.
Harnett Central is at home against conference and county rival Western Harnett Wednesday.
“Do what we’re coached to do,” Cabe said. “Do the small things. Not get outrebounded. Crash the boards. Talk on defense. Nothing that has anything to do with skill. It has everything to do with effort, hustle and heart. Be focused and want it more than the other team.”
Triton starts the second half of its conference slate at home against Lee County on Friday. The Hawks won 57-22 at Lee on Jan. 19.
“We’ve got to cut down on those turnovers (Triton had 17 Tuesday), for sure,” Simmons said. “And just learn to take care of the basketball. Slow it down. Run your offense. You don’t always have to get a fast break.”