The Lady Tigers just seem to have the Lady Rams’ number, as Tucker led the entire way from beginning to end in a 76-59 victory that pretty much clinches the No. 1 seed in the region tournament for Tucker.
Tucker earned the tip to begin the game and Jayla Morrow immediately went to work, scoring with a jumper to give the Lady Tigers an early 2-0 lead. Morrow was the linchpin to Tucker’s 10-0 run to begin the game forcing Newton to play behind the eight ball early. Finally, Newton got on the board with a trey from Alexcia Chatman to make it 10-3.
A notable difference between Region 2-AAAAAA’s top two teams coming into the contest was the height disparity in favor of Tucker. The Lady Rams have two players listed at 5-foot-8 or higher, the Lady Tigers have eight. It showed when Newton tried to attack the rim and couldn’t convert over the Tucker towers on defense. The Lady Rams missed three straight contested looks at the rim leading to a 16-3 lead for Tucker with 4:11 left in the first.
After Tucker built a 21-3 lead, Traleea Jones nailed a triple to make it 21-6. A Chatman putback made it 21-8 at the end of the first.
Throughout the first quarter and most of the game, Tucker was consistently able to get out in transition with numbers on offense. After a miss on offense, Newton players attempted to go after offensive rebounds, but failed and Tucker got out in transition in three-on-twos and two-on-ones for easy buckets.
“It wasn’t the issue of two and three people going for the rebound, if we get the rebound then that’s great, it’s the fact that we weren’t getting it was the problem. With Tucker being so big, the boards are almost a key to the win, because if they don’t get those rebounds, they don’t throw that ball,” Newton Coach Tiffani Johnson said. “We focused all week on crashing the boards, so I think our focus was I’m going in and forgot about who’s running back. It was one of those things where they were trying to execute what we were talking about, but we didn’t have that one person back or they were getting back to the wrong side of the floor, little things like that. If we grab those rebounds, again, we cut down on that as well.”
There was a lid on the basket for the Lady Rams even when they got good looks in the second period, Newton couldn't make the open ones, missing three open three-pointers in a two-minute span.
“We knew the game meant a lot to us, we wanted it really bad and sometimes you try to hard the wrong way and instead of shooting the shot in rhythm, now you’re trying to force a shot to go in. [We were] a little nervous,” Johnson added. “This is our worst game mentally, I don’t feel like we focused enough today so we did miss a lot of easy buckets and our shot was off. For us, if our shots are falling then our energy’s up, and we didn’t have that extra energy boost today to help us turn that corner.”
The Tucker lead grew as high as 18 before it was trimmed to 12 after a layup by Kayla Smith on a pass from Imani Broadnax. The teams played it even in the second quarter (15-15) and the Lady Tigers took a 36-23 into halftime.
Janelle Cook knocked down a three to open the half but the Lady Rams defense parted like the Red Sea and Najla Shamsid-Deen answered by nailing a teardrop off the backboard.
A steal and score by Tucker’s Mariya Trimble gave the Lady Tigers a 16-point lead with under three minutes to play. A long two from Broadnax started a 6-0 run by Newton to end the quarter as the Lady Rams went into the fourth down 51-41.
“[Tucker] was just rebounding it and letting it go. Once we were able to cut that out, that cut out fouls on our end, the easy buckets and allowed us to chip away at the lead,” Johnson said. “We didn’t cut it out 100 percent, but it definitely allowed us to get back in the game, we just couldn’t turn that corner.”
Morrow would get the lead back to 14 with 6:44 to play. Jurnee Smith started another 6-0 run for the Lady Rams that trimmed the lead to eight after Kayana Henderson went 1-2 at the charity stripe, but that was as close as Newton would get before Tucker got the lead back to double digits and kept it there.
“We just did not mentally play a complete game today,” said Johnson. “We had spurts, we had maybe two minutes of great basketball and then we had four minutes of horrible basketball. We just did not put it all together today.”