Tuesday night’s rivalry matchup between No. 8 South Charleston and No. 6 George Washington was supposed to aid girls basketball poll voters and sectional voters alike in deciding supremacy between the two.
But in the aftermath, there may be more questions than answers.
The Black Eagles (10-3) certainly did what they needed to, using efficient half-court offense against GW’s zone and shaking off a few late mental gaffes in picking up a 51-45 victory on The Hill, marking SC’s first win over ranked Class AAA competition this year.
But GW’s Kalissa Lacy, who averages 25.8 points per game to lead the Kanawha Valley and the Mountain State Athletic Conference, didn’t play after being suspended for three days due to a violation of school rules. She will also miss the team’s scheduled game on Wednesday against Summers County at the Big Atlantic Classic in Beckley.
It certainly took some of the luster out of the contest early and mirrored a regular-season matchup between the two teams a year ago, when SC point guard Lavender Ward missed with a knee injury. GW won that game but eventually lost to SC in the sectionals once Ward returned.
While any win is a good win in this year’s wild Class AAA race, no one quite knew what to take away from Tuesday’s result.
“Our kids were primed to go play a full GW team, but losing Lacy is a big thing for them,” SC coach Gary Greene said. “I have empathy for them, we’ve been there and done that.”
In Lacy’s absence, GW came out on fire, running out to a 10-4 lead before the tide started turning late in the first period with a 7-0 closing run by SC, giving the Black Eagles a 13-11 advantage after one. The Patriots (8-5) hung around, getting 10 first-half points from Vivian Ho and trailing just 28-24 at the break.
But the Black Eagles were already settled into their offense, using patience and crisp passing to find open shots. Over the second and third quarters, SC shot 11 for 19 from the floor and hit all five of its 3-point attempts. A bit handcuffed offensively, GW couldn’t keep up as SC built a 47-34 advantage heading into the fourth period.
“My depth was a little bit of a challenge and we pushed some kids pretty hard,” GW coach Jamie LaMaster said. “They did a nice job of overloading and putting a kid in the short corner, which is how you attack [the zone]. They found it early and we tried to clean it up at halftime and then they started working out on the perimeter too. They adjusted well.”
The game was seemingly in hand for SC, but the Black Eagles turned it over seven times in the fourth quarter after turning it over just five times over the first three periods. As GW went to a full-court press, it created opportunities but just couldn’t cash in on the offensive end enough to make them count. For the game, GW took 23 more shots than SC but made one less, with the Black Eagles going 19 for 40 and GW finishing 18 for 63.
Those late turnovers and mistakes have cost the Black Eagles dearly in three losses, and though the team made a lead stick this time around, Greene said it’s an area that needs improvement moving forward.
“The fourth quarter is always exciting for us, we never know what we’re going to do or what’s going to happen,” Greene said. “I think the fatigue — we played six or seven kids tonight — we’ve got to get in better shape, we’ve got a tough row to hoe next week.
“But as long as the kids play hard and give us what they can in practice, we’ll let the scoreboard take care of itself. We’re trying to get ready for the state tournament and get the bench ready for that.”
Maliha Witten and Myra Cuffee each finished with 15 points to lead South Charleston, with post player Mia Terry pulling down 11 rebounds and blocking four shots to go with six points in trying to match up with GW’s stable of bigs.
Ho finished with 16 points and Lauren Harmison ended with 10 points and eight rebounds. Mary Lyle Smith (eight) and Aamyah Washington (seven) also helped pound the glass, especially on the offensive end, which led to more opportunities.
But with Lacy out of the lineup and despite a gritty effort, the Patriots simply couldn’t get enough shots to fall.
“There were opportunities, we just missed the opportunities,” LaMaster said. “But for my kids to stay in there and fight like that, I was really proud of them. We just need to finish some plays and get the ball in the basket.”