ROWLAND — With his team facing a deficit heading into the fourth quarter, Red Springs coach Steve Sinclair pulled his starting guards to the side — Taya Jones and Sha’nia Leach — and offered them a challenge.
“I told them, ‘This is game is totally on y’all, y’all are the leaders, you have to play,’” he said. “I think they took it to heart.”
It certainly seemed that way, as Jones and Leach made key plays down the stretch to help the Lady Red Devils earn a 57-56 road win at South Robeson on Tuesday night.
The duo accounted for 22 of Red Springs’ 26 fourth-quarter points, with Jones scoring 16 of her team-high 28 points in the final period and Leach hitting six free throws in the final minutes to clinch the victory.
“They’ve played the most basketball of anyone on our team,” Sinclair said. “Their play sealed the game for us.”
Defensively, Leach and Jones were just as good.
Trailing 52-51 in the final 35 seconds with South Robeson (10-5, 5-2 TRC) standout A’Terria Quick dribbling near the top of key, Leach forced a deflection and Jones grabbed on the ball, drawing a foul. She hit 1-of-2 free throws to knot it up at 52-52 and Leach forced a 10-second violation after the tying free throw, swinging the momentum to the Lady Red Devils (10-6, 6-1).
Following the violation, Quick was whistled for a technical foul after slamming the ball on the floor in frustration. Jones took advantage, knocking down a free throw to give Red Springs the lead for good.
It was a play that summed up the final minutes for the Lady Mustangs.
“Mental mistakes hurt us all night,” South Robeson coach Lula Ratley said. “…and I hope that (technical foul) sends a message to A’Terria. A leader can’t do that; you have to stay focused.”
After an offensive rebound, Leach drew a foul with 10 seconds left and knocked down both free throws to give the Lady Red Devils a 55-52 lead. They fouled Quick on the ensuing possession, preventing a chance for a potential tying 3-pointer. After Quick hit 1-of-2 free throws, Leach answered with a pair to make it a two-possession game with six seconds remaining. Quick would drain a 3-pointer at the buzzer for the final tally.
Along with the deflection and 10-second violation, Leach helped force a pair of five-second violations — despite foul trouble. She also attacked the rim on the offensive end to earn free-throw opportunities, scoring nine of her 11 points from the charity stripe.
“I was just trying to make plays,” Leach said. “We wanted to get (Quick) out of her game. It’s scary (being in a tight game), but it gets you motivated.”
Leading 50-49 with 1:48 to play, South Robeson pushed its lead to three after a layup by Nytia Lewis. But Jones continued to answer, scoring a layup to keep Red Springs close with 1:16 remaining.
“We knew how important this game was,” Sinclair said. “The entire team stayed engaged, even when we were down, and it helped us pull through. It gives us confidence. Now, we’ve faced adversity and fought through it.”
Jones’ performance mirrored her last trip to Rowland, a 30-point scoring effort that resulted in a 55-49 win for the Lady Red Devils.
“I don’t really know what it is (about Rowland),” Jones said. “I guess it’s the competition with Quick. It’s hard, but it’s fun too. If she scored, I knew I had to score.”
Quick would win the individual battle, scoring 26 of her game-high 41 points in the second half to lead the Lady Mustangs, doing most of her damage inside the arch. She only connected on two 3-pointers in the game.
Sinclair knew Quick would put up good numbers, but he was also confident in the ability of his guards.
“I’ve said it before, in our conference, I feel like every time we step on the court we have the two best guards,” he said. “We feel like Taya has the same capability as Quick.”
South Robeson led by as many as seven points in the second half, taking a 38-31 lead into the fourth quarter after an old-fashioned three-point play by Quick to close the third period.
But a layup by Sanastasia Powell capped a 13-5 spurt for Red Springs to start the final frame, giving the visitors their first lead since a 4-2 margin in the opening minutes. Powell finished with a team-high 10 rebounds.
“We just didn’t execute at the end and we lost our focus,” Ratley said. “We’ve got to shake it off and move forward. We’re still in it, we just have to keep going at it.”
Desaree Dunham finished with five points and four steals for the Lady Mustangs and Chania Troy added a game-high 13 rebounds.
South Robeson led 21-19 at the half. The Lady Mustangs will look to bounce back tonight at Fairmont.
For Red Springs, the focus turns to St. Pauls. A win tonight sets up a battle for first place in Three Rivers Conference with East Columbus (11-2, 7-0) on Tuesday.
“It’s definitely motivation,” Jones said. “We feel like we can beat anyone in our conference.”
Atkinson hits go-ahead basket to lift Red Devils
In a back-and-forth game between Red Springs and South Robeson, it was Tavion Atkinson who had the last say in determining the outcome.
With the score tied at 63-63, the Red Springs senior nailed a jumper with 1.6 seconds left, lifting the Red Devils to a 65-63 road win over the Mustangs.
Atkinson was one of two players to notch a double-double, finishing with 20 points and 11 rebounds. He also had four blocks in the contest. Eric Graham scored 14 points to go with 12 rebounds to record the team’s second double-double.
In a game that featured 14 ties and 13 lead changes, the Red Devils (9-8, 4-3 TRC) had to rally from an early deficit to earn the victory. Caleel Mitchell’s shooting helped keep Red Springs close, as the guard finished with a team-best 24 points, including six 3-pointers.
Davonta Banks scored a game-high 25 points to lead the Mustangs (3-11, 2-5), adding 12 rebounds to record a double-double. Banks scored five points to give South Robeson a 55-52 lead in the fourth quarter, but baskets by Atkinson and Mitchell pushed Red Springs ahead by one. Johnny Pipken, who finished with 14 points and nine rebounds, tied the game at 59-59 with 1:42, but Graham answered with a basket to give Red Springs a 61-59 with 1:16 left to play.
Jaurius Davis scored the final points for the Mustangs, tying the game at 63-63 on layup before Atkinson hit the game-winning basket.
The Mustangs jumped out to a 13-4 lead in the first quarter, but Red Springs closed the deficit to 33-31 at the half.
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.