By Carey Phillips
After scoring just nine points in the first half, Smoky Mountain’s offense came to life, and the Lady Mustangs pulled out a 67-63 double overtime non-conference basketball victory over North Henderson on Dec. 31 at the SM gym.
Natalie Parris scored 21 points for the Lady Mustangs, and Lucy McRae had 19.
Abigail Hedgepath led the Lady Knights with 19 points. Also in double figures were Ashley Patton with 13 and Lexie Gunter with 12.
“We had to make adjustments here and there,” Coach Ollin Dunford said of the slow start. “I had some players who stepped up. You have to keep digging and looking.”
SM’s Kyra Fowler hit game-tying shots late in regulation and the first overtime. She was playing her second game of the year and missed all but four games last season due to a hip injury.
“She has the green light to shoot,” Dunford said. “She was taking good open shots, but they just weren’t falling. We never doubted her ability to shoot the ball. When it counted the most, she made them.
“Kyra is truly a big factor in this program,” he added. “We have missed her. She is going to be an asset to our success as a team. We’ve still got to ease her back in there. We’re just happy to have her back. We’ve got to be smart about how we manage her time.”
“I didn’t know if I would play again,” an emotional Fowler said following the game. “After having three surgeries on my labrum and having it reconstructed, the doctor came in and said I might not walk again. To know I was able to come on the court and be with my girls and my family means more than you will ever know. I’m so thankful to be able to play with my family and play with my girls. God is so great. He can take a disaster and make it into a miracle as Coach O said before the game. I’m so blessed to have a family and a team and people who support me and love me. Just to able to bounce back from two years of not playing and be able to play today means everything.”
Aubrie Miller’s three-pointer 11 seconds into the second OT gave the Lady Mustangs the lead for good, 55-52.
McRae’s three-pointer made it 62-56 at the 1:58 mark.
Parris hit five of six free throws in the final minute to help seal the win.
SM took a 46-44 edge in the first overtime on Mc-Rae’s two foul shots with 3:16 on the clock.
Patton’s three-pointer put North up 49-47 at the 1:01 mark. Maya Phillips’ basket made it 52-47 with 23 seconds to play.
Parris’ driving shot cut the gap to 52-49 with 17 seconds to go.
After the Lady Knights missed a pair of foul shots, Fowler’s three-pointer from the corner tied it 52-52 with five seconds left.
Trailing throughout the game and down by eight to start the fourth quarter, the Lady Mustangs came out in a press and had the lead in just more than two minutes. McRae had seven, including a pair of three-pointers, and Parris scored the last four on a steal and layup and two foul shots for a 36-33 edge at the 6:33 mark.
“We got to a point where our defense wasn’t forcing anything,” Dunford said of going to a press. “We went man to man full court, and that turned the game around.”
North regained the lead at 37-36 when Gunter scored with 5:43 on the clock. Her two foul shots made it 43-38 at the 2:02 mark.
Allison Macke’s basket narrowed the deficit to 44-42 with 31.9 seconds left, and Fowler tied it 44-44 with 17 seconds to go.
With Hedgepath scoring four, the Lady Knights took a 6-0 lead three minutes into the game.
Parris’ three-pointer brought SM within 6-5 at the 3:40 mark, and North led 8-5 at the quarter break.
The teams combined for just nine points in the second period, which ended with the Lady Knights on top 13-9.
Dunford was puzzled by the slow start.
“They basically run the same kind of defense we run,” he said. “We couldn’t penetrate that defense, and I didn’t understand that. They allowed us to shoot three-pointers, and our shots weren’t going in.”
In addition to the defensive switch, the offense of Parris and McRae and Fowler’s big shots got the team back in the game, the coach said.
He was pleased with the rebounding of Macke, who had 14, and Parris, who had 10 giving her a double-double.
“I thought we rebounded well,” Dunford said. “If our offense isn’t going well, we have to play defense every minute, and that was a factor. I thought they did a great job.”
North opened the second half on a 9-2 run to lead 22-11 on Gunter’s foul shot with 5:14 to go in the third period.
Five straight points from Hedgepath built the lead to 29-14 with three minutes left.
The Lady Mustangs scored nine straight points, the last five by Parris, leaving the deficit 29-23 with 51 seconds on the clock.
The Lady Knights were up 33-25 entering the fourth quarter.
Parris made six field goals, including two tree-pointers, and was seven of eight from the line. Three of McRae’s five field goals were treys to go with six free throws.
Macke finished with nine points, Fowler netted seven, Miller scored five, and Kevonna Tushka, Melanie Hoyle and Macy Wike all had two.
The Lady Mustang JVs won 40-31 as Aiden Nicholson had 10 points.
They led at quarter breaks by scores of 13-1, 21-14 and 35-14.
“I was worried we would come out flat after having such an exciting game the day before, but we started fast and finished well,” Coach Jason Melvin said. “Everyone contributed in various ways, and we continue to improve. We know the things we need to get better at, and this team wants to get better every practice and every game. We finished 2019 on a seven-game win streak, and we hope to keep that going in 2020.”