Hornets' buzzer-beater clinches playoff berth
AIKEN 39 WHITE KNOLL 37 (OT)
The Aiken High girls' basketball team found itself in a difficult situation Tuesday night. It had the ball with eight seconds to play in overtime of a tied game, but it was three-quarters of the court away from its basket and had struggled to generate a mere four points over the last 12 minutes of action.
It seemed like the Hornets were headed for double overtime against White Knoll. That's because when the ball was inbounded to Sophie Nance, her first move was to go backward – away from a designed screen – to create space from her defender. But Nance knew what she was doing, and the move away from the logjam of players near the scorer's table created a driving lane along the right sideline – with only her defender between her and the basket.
Nance drove nearly the length of the court, moving side to side to try and shake loose from her defender as the clock ticked down. She pulled up at the right block, and feinted slightly to her left before elevating for a shot.
The ball went in as the buzzer sounded, sending the Hornets into a frenzy.
The shot not only clinched the 39-37 overtime win, but a trip to the playoffs as well, as White Knoll was eliminated from contention.
According to Aiken head coach Aubrey Pompey, the play went almost perfectly as designed.
“We put the ball in (Nance's) hands, because she was the one person who could get the ball into position to score,” Pompey said of having to call a play that would cover so much ground in such fleeting time. “Believe it or not, that's a shot she can make.”
Nance tied for game-high honors with 11 points. Her shot gave a proper ending to a very competitive game that was bogged down by some offensive woes in the fourth quarter and overtime session.
“It was a fun game. White Knoll played so well; I take my hat off to White Knoll,” Pompey said. “It was a well-played, competitive game. It was back and forth.”
The first half was very tightly contested. The teams weren't overpowering on offense but were efficient. The Timberwolves led 20-18 at halftime, but the Hornets (8-15, 4-5 Region 5-AAAA) found their rhythm in the third quarter – posting 15 points for a 33-28 lead. But the success was short lived as they could only muster two points in the fourth, forcing the dramatic overtime.
The extra session was low scoring as well, with Mirakle Johnson producing the first points more than two minutes in when she was fed a pass as she cut down the lane before finishing from point-blank range. Johnson matched Nance's 11 points, and her final basket gave Aiken a lead it held until just 40 seconds remained. That's when White Knoll tied the game, before a series of turnovers set the stage for Nance's heroics.
Aiken will return to action tonight when it makes up its final game of the regular season at North Augusta. Regardless of tonight's outcome, the Hornets are locked into fourth place in the region and will open the playoffs on the road on Thursday.
WK 12 8 8 7 2 – 37
AIK 8 10 15 2 4 – 39
White Knoll—Charne Wilson 0 4-4 4, Brittany Weeks 3 0-0 7, Timesha Moody 3 3-6 9, Anna Marie Richardson 1 5-8 7, Maria Gaffney 2 0-2 4, Courtney Jolly 1 0-0 2, Emily W. 1 1-2 4. Totals: 11 13-22 37.
3-Pointers: Weeks, W.
Aiken (8-15, 4-5 Region 5-AAAA)—Kelsee Sapp 1 0-0 3, Tyesia McKevie 1 0-0 2, Destiny Williams 0 0-1 0, Mirakle Johnson 5 1-4 11, Maggie Odom 2 0-2 4, Sophie Nance 4 3-5 11, Isabelle Holland 2 0-0 4, Adrienne Wilson 2 0-0 4. Totals: 17 4-12 39.
WHITE KNOLL 62 AIKEN 56
In a game marred by an overzealous official, the Aiken boys put forth a valiant effort trying to overcome a double-digit deficit against White Knoll, before falling 62-56.
The loss was in stark contrast to Monday's win over South Aiken, when the Hornets (14-9, 5-4 Region 5-AAAA) stormed out to an early lead and were hitting the majority of their shots. On Tuesday against the Timberwolves (11-14, 4-6), they struggled to find any rhythm or scoring in the first half, going scoreless for long stretches as White Knoll used runs of 13-0 and 11-0 to build a 27-17 halftime lead.
“In the first half, we went through the motions,” Aiken head coach Tony Harrell said. “There was not a lot of effort or energy. In the second half, we exerted ourselves harder and started making some shots. We were able to make it a game but just couldn't get over the hump.”
After falling behind by a dozen, the Hornets played their way back into the game with a 7-0 spurt. They picked up the tempo, pushed the ball as much as possible and extended their defensive pressure. While the strategy created more points, it also created holes on the back end of the defense. This led to breakaway scoring chances and several fouls as Aiken was too late in its efforts to stop White Knoll.
This, along with four unexplainable technical fouls assessed to the Aiken bench, gave the visitors a massive advantage in free-throw attempts. The Timberwolves were 22-for-31 from the charity stripe while the Hornets only had seven attempts, making six.
“They're a good ball team and played extremely hard,” Harrell said of White Knoll, which was led by Emarius Logan's 19 points and Najee Garvin's 18. “They have two players that are very skilled and are college-level players. They made a lot of plays.”
In spite of the free-throw disparity, the Hornets battled back, getting within a single point at 55-54 with 2:21 to play. But Logan made a beautiful ball-fake on a drive to the basket that put the Timberwolves out of reach. Aiken was forced to foul but couldn't convert on offense, allowing White Knoll to expand the final score.
The Hornets will play at North Augusta tonight before opening the playoffs on the road on Thursday. Should they win, they'll be the No. 3 seed in the region and play at South Florence. A loss would make North Augusta the region champs and Aiken the No. 4 seed, which would play at Sumter.
“Our approach is to win the basketball game,” Harrell said. “We're going to compete our hardest and try to win and get a higher seed.”
WK 15 12 19 16 – 62
AIK 8 9 23 16 – 56
White Knoll (11-14, 4-6 Region 5-AAAA)—Emarius Logan 4 11-13 19, Chris Dorah 1 0-0 2, Miles Mathis 1 0-0 3, Malik Johnson 0 1-2 1, Najee Garvin 7 4-5 18, Trevor North 2 2-3 7, Jason Rumph 4 3-6 11, Zach knight 0 1-2 1. Totals: 19 22-31 62.
Aiken (14-9, 5-4 Region 5-AAAA)—Devante Gaiters 5 0-0 13, Nakeem Spann 2 0-0 4, Deon Hicks 3 0-0 8, Daniel Williams 1 0-0 2, D.J. Kitchings 4 0-0 10, Stacy Toole 4 5-5 13, Jordan McKevie 1 1-2 3, Dominic Chapin 1 0-0 3. Totals: 21 6-7 56.
3-Pointers: Gaiters (3), Hicks (2), Kitchings (2), Chapin.
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 14 years after graduating from Syracuse University.