Dec 27, 2012
Myers Park coach Barbara Nelson has a simple, pointed coaching strategy: her team will live or die by the press.
Thursday at Cary Academy in the semifinal of the HighSchoolOT.com Holiday Invitational, her team used it to survive an overtime scare by Dudley. The Mustangs trailed by five points with a minute to go in the game, but they ramped up the defensive pressure and forced an overtime period, where they eventually beat the Panthers 63-58 to advance to the championship game of the Mix 101.5 Girls Bracket.
Myers Park's press held Dudley to three points in the final two minutes of regulation and three points in the four-minute overtime period. The pinnacle of Nelson's press was reached when Mustang forward Rhydeiah Rogers stole a pass at mid-court with 10 seconds left and took it for a layup on the other end, which tied the game at 55 and forced overtime.
"The kids just have to believe in the press and continue to recognize that it forces teams to play something they don't practice every day," Nelson said. "When we run it and we run it right, we usually have success. We don't always get steals, but, sometimes, they take quick shots, and we get to run it right back at them, or those types of things."
Before Myers Park's press finally forced the turnovers Nelson expected, Dudley played a well-rounded game that allowed the Panthers to lead for the majority of the second half. Dudley went on a 7-0 run just before halftime to knot the score at 29, and the third quarter was all Panthers. They hit three 3-pointers, including two by Makala Rouse, in the third quarter to seize control of the contest.
Dudley's lead reached 10 points in the fourth quarter. That was when Rogers and her teammates told each other not to get down on themselves.
"We kind of just tried to encourage each other and tell each other that we're still in the game, that it's not a 20-point game or anything. We can still win, just calm down," said Rogers, who registered a 22-point, 12-rebound double-double. "I was really stressed out that game, but it feels good to pull it out like that."
Dudley coach Frank McNeil said that while he thinks his team handled the press well enough to win, it played a large part in wearing down the Panthers. And with such fatigue, he said, it opened the door for his team to lose focus.
India Timpton capitalized on Dudley's mistakes, scoring six points in overtime while helping force a number of turnovers out of the press. She finished the game with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
Dudley's Essence Abraham and Moriah Davis shot the ball well throughout the game, finishing with 14 and 12 points, respectively. Dudley also got a big performance from center Akela Maize, who scored seven points and brought down four rebounds. While Maize's stat line isn't particularly impressive, it's qualified by the fact that she was forced to sit out large chunks of time with foul trouble. When she was on the court, though, she gave Myers Park fits and helped Dudley dominate the third quarter.
That dominance is all for naught now, though. Myers Park stayed just close enough during its rough patches to strike in the final minutes. With the Panthers on their last legs and the press picking up steam through the final buzzer, the Mustangs ran away with the game in overtime to stay alive in the Holiday Invitational.
It's a bitter loss for the Panthers, who were on the cusp of a championship appearance in their first trip to the Invitational. Instead of competing for a trophy, they have to settle for the experience they gained while competing in an overtime game against a top team.
"Understanding game situations -- those are something we just have to work on as coaches ... and that just comes from game experience," McNeil said. "One thing we'll preach going forward is not to assume anything. Don't assume that the game is won and assume a play could be made, but actually go out and make the play and make the right play."
Myers Park plays Broughton for the championship Saturday at Broughton High School. Dudley will face Hillside in the third-place game Friday at Cary Academy at 2 p.m.
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