Special to the Aiken Standard

In the end, it was the little things that mattered most for North Augusta’s Lady Jackets in Tuesday’s key Region 5-AAAA battle at county rival Aiken High.

Things like boxing out for rebounds and following shots.

Coach Crystal Cunningham’s team overcame a lethargic offensive output of just nine points in the first half to take a healthy lead in the second half and eventually hold off Aiken 40-38 at the buzzer for a hard-fought victory that moves North Augusta (12-5, 6-3) into sole possession of second place in the region standings behind Dutch Fork.

“At halftime we just reminded them how hard we had been working in practice on those little things like boxing out that we hadn’t done in the first half,” Cunningham said. “We had played hard but not done those things. So we just talked about that and told them to keep playing because we know that eventually that effort with our defense will lead to our offense.”

North Augusta kept up the defensive pressure and suddenly the baskets that were so few and far between in the first half began arriving in abundance. Down 16-9 after back-to-baskets from Aiken’s Alexis Odom, the Lady Jackets scored on three straight possessions to cut the lead to two points at 18-16.

The Lady Jackets refocused on fundamentals and closed the third quarter on an 11-4 run to take a 27-22 advantage.

“They made us change a lot of shots and I thought their defense tonight was outstanding,” said Aiken coach Aubrey Pompey. “This is the third or fourth game in a row where we have really had a hard time scoring in the first half and we’ve tried to do some different things, but when shots aren’t falling you have to play better defense. They did that and got into a rhythm.”

North Augusta will play host to Dutch Fork on Thursday, while Aiken travels to arch-rival South Aiken.

Still, the Lady Hornets were not about to go quietly.

Trailing 33-22 with 6:00 left in the game, Aiken (15-7, 5-4) charged back with a 10-4 run of their own that cut the Lady Jacket lead to just 38-32 with 3:00 left following a huge three-pointer from Erin Gilmore. From there Gilmore and her teammates continued to squeeze turnovers out of the Lady Jackets. Gilmore scored on a layup and hit a pair of free throws to trim the lead to just two points with under a minute on the game clock.

The Lady Hornets needed another big play and they got one from Odom as she collected a rebound before putting the ball back up and in while being fouled.

That sent her to the free throw line with just .1 seconds remaining but time finally ran out on the Aiken comeback after Odom’s foul shot missed and the Lady Hornets didn’t get another shot at the basket.

“I’m really proud of the way the girls played defense and really went out and got the win,” Cunningham said. “We’re happy with the win.”

NA 5 4 18 13 – 40

AIK 8 6 10 16 – 38

North Augusta (12-5, 6-3 Region 5-AAAA) – Brianna Dicks 2 1-2 5, Arielle Houston 0 2-2, Jasmine Coach 4 3-5 11, Brianna Trowell 2 0-0 4, Cydney Mathews 1 2-4 4, Ja’Lyn Sanders 1 0-0 3, Mallory Stone 5 0-0 11. Totals: 15 8-13 40. 3-pointers: Sanders 1, Stone 1.

Aiken (15-7, 5-4 Region 5-AAAA) – Erin Gilmore 7 3-6 18, Rebekah Muir 2 0-0 5, Jhay Graham 2 0-0 5, Alexis Odom 4 2-6 10. Totals: 15 5-12 38. 3-pointers: Gilmore 1, Muir 1, Graham 1.