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The delayed Senior Night for the Hunt High varsity girls basketball team arrived Friday evening with seniors Tatiana Smith, Shaniah Spells, Tyra Rushing and Shaniah Thorpe an emotional wreck.
Furthermore, the Lady Warriors lineup was missing 6-foot junior Bria Griffith, the conference’s leading scorer, because of concussion protocol.
But 5-9 junior Imani Sutton arose above Hunt’s miseries with sensational outputs in the second and fourth quarters en route to a game-high 24 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks and five steals in leading the Lady Warriors, already with the 3-A Big East Conference regular-season championship in their posssession, to a 43-41 nail-biter against Northern Nash.
Sutton drilled in 14 of Hunt’s 18 points in the final quarter, but did not score the winning basket. Instead, she drove to the basket, dished off to junior Dylia Lucas, and Lucas’ layup shot rolled around the rim and reluctantly dropped in with 26.8 seconds remaining for the final score.
The Lady Knights requested a time-out with a fraction over 14 seconds remaining. Just before the buzzer, Kylar Wiggins put up a shot that, who else?, Sutton blocked.
“I took off, ran behind (Wiggins) and got the block,” Sutton replayed. “I was hoping a foul wouldn’t be called.”
Thus, Hunt avenged its only conference loss and its ninth consecutive Big East win left it with an 18-3 overall record going into the tournament’s semifinals next Wednesday at Rocky Mount High.
The Lady Knights finished 5-5 in the Big East and ended the regular season at 9-12. The game was rescheduled from two weeks earlier.
The postgame found third-year Hunt head coach Tiffany Parks searching for the appropriate words to describe how her team won and veteran head coach Grover Battle doing likewise to explain how the Lady Knights lost.
“With it being Senior Night, you would have thought we would have stepped up,” Parks reasoned. “But we didn’t. Maybe it was too much pressure.
“But Imani really stepped up; she did a really great job of driving to the basket. I’m really glad she decided to step up.”
Said Sutton: “I knew I had to step up and I took it upon myself. But (teammates) helped me also. We took it one play at a time. I can’t believe we won.”
Neither could Battle believe Hunt won.
“We should have done a better job,” he contended. “We missed 18 free throws and had 17-18 turnovers. A couple of times, we took the wrong shot. They’re sophomores and they might get a little nervous and a little tight. I’m pretty frustrated; I know we were better tonight.”
Bu the Lady Knights dropped their third consecutive game by a total margin of five points.
Sutton’s 10 second-quarter points and the team’s 11-of-15 performance at the foul line staked Hunt to a 23-17 halftime lead.
But the Lady Warriors dealt with a wretched third quarter. They threw up ill-advised shots and missed several from point-blank range. Emotions became difficult to control, with Rushing drawing a technical with four minutes, 40 seconds left in the third quarter. Hunt players floated lazy passes that were picked off and committed numerous ball-handling errors. Hunt’s only third-quarter points were a pair of free throws from Smith with 1:18 showing.
Northern Nash seized a 25-23 lead on Hannah Evans’ basket and closed the quarter with a 6-0 run to enter the final quarter ahead 32-25.
But Sutton produced a three-point play for a 32-32 tie with 5:10 remaining and a 3-pointer for a 37-37 standoff with 2:30 to go, Hunt, which finished 19-of-25 from the foul line and withstood 28 turnovers, went ahead 41-40 when Sutton rebounded a missed free throw, scored, was fouled and sank the free throw.
Indyia Spooner’s free throw drew Northern Nash even at 41-41 with 44.2 seconds remaining.
Hunt’s go-ahead play did not surprise Battle. He knew the Lady Warriors liked to run cuts and expected the basketball to wind up in Sutton’s hands.
“We were having a difficult time with her,” Battle admitted. “But instead of getting in front of her, we stayed behind her and let her drive.”
Sutton delivered with her assist to Lucas.
“We set a goal to win the conference (second straight year),” Parks reviewed. “We felt like the first game (against Northern Nash), we really should have won. Our next goal is to win the tournament and, hopefully, we can accomplish that goal.
“Luckily, tonight, Imani wanted to play.”
NORTHERN NASH (41)
Thigpen, Hedgepeth 16, Wiggins 4, Foster 2, Arrington, Evans 11, Bobbitt 4, Apoonwe 2, Clark 1, Thorne.
McNeil, Tucker 4, Rushing 2, Carlton, Thorpe, Spells 1, Smith 7, Sutton 24, Lucas 5.
Score by quarters:
Northern Nash 10 7 15 9 — 41
Hunt 8 15 2 18 — 43