By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Thayer Lady Bobcats did what they needed to do Thursday night and held off the Central Lady Bulldogs and their high-scoring junior Makaiya Brooks, 49-39, to advance in the White Division of the Pink & White Lady Classic at the O’Reilly Family Event Center on the Drury University campus.
Brooks, who had been averaging 27.6 points per game coming into Thursday’s contest, was a focus for Thayer.
“We couldn’t get away from them,” Thayer coach Cecil Meyer said of Central keeping the game close. “That Brooks girl – we lost her a few times – but did a great job in the first half and held her to eight. But, in the second half she came out and hit some tough ones. We’d been working on doubling her and we got the ball out of her hands. She might have made one more shot after that, so I thought we did a good job of that.”
With Thayer’s key being to take Brooks out of the game, the Lady Bulldogs worked the ball inside to their “Twin Towers” of Aaliyah Pittman and Heaven Shockley.
“We knew they may want to try to do that, but we thought that was the lesser of two evils,” Meyer said. “We may let them throw it in there and wall off and make them take a tough one and get a rebound.”
Pittman, a freshman center, was a presence for Central, scoring eight first-half points and grabbing some key rebounds as the Lady Bulldogs kept the game within 4-5 points against the defending Class 2 state champion.
Thayer held a 23-18 lead at halftime and extended that lead to nine points (27-18) early in the third quarter. But, a put-back by Pittman and back-to-back 3-pointers from Brooks pulled Central within one (27-26). Thayer answered on a high-low play from Shelby Coursey to Jurnee Rolen for a 29-26 lead before Brooks connected for another 3 to tie the game at 29 with 3:52 to go in the third quarter.
The Lady Bobcats used a 5-0 run to create a little breathing room, but Central wouldn’t go away using a 5-0 run of its own to pull within 37-35 heading into the fourth quarter.
Though she had been feeling under the weather recently, the 6-foot-2 Coursey came up big for Thayer to open the fourth quarter, scoring two baskets and getting a key block before Maddy Kerley scored on a put-back to put the Lady Bobcats up 43-35 with 6:02 to go in the game. Two free throws from Rolen gave Thayer a 10-point lead (45-35) before Central hit its first basket of the quarter with 1:35 to go – a 3-pointer from Brooks, who scored a game-high 20.
“We had it there at 10 with four minutes left in the game and didn’t get the shots we wanted and didn’t get to stretch it out, but we fought back and got it back to 10,” Meyer said. “(Coursey) is a big part of what we want to do. She had been sick, and then in the third and fourth quarter she finally acted like she had some pep in her step, so hopefully, she can continue that the rest of the tournament.”
Having to fight back time and again throughout the game eventually took its toll on the Lady Bulldogs.
“I think we got a little winded,” Central coach Caitlin Lamberth said. “I knew coming back after Christmas break, having eaten whatever they wanted to eat and playing on this college court, we would be kind of winded. And, when the momentum did shift our way, we were a little tired, we missed a defensive assignment, they’d make the extra pass and they were very disciplined in their offense.
“Kudos to them because they got it to where it needed to be, and they made the bucket when they needed a bucket.”
But, with a young lineup, Lamberth was proud of the way her team competed against a defending state champion.
“We have a couple of young girls who need to know what that fight is about,” Lamberth said. “We have some upperclassmen who are trying to bring that out in them. I think playing against a team that is a defending state champion – we can’t back down from that. And, that’s what we talk a lot about is not backing down from anybody.”
No. 8 Thayer 49, Central 39
Pink & White Lady Classic
White Division – First-round game
THAYER 49, CENTRAL 39
CENTRAL (4-4) – Makaiya Brooks 20, Aaliyah Pittman 12, Heaven Shockley 2, Cia Taylor 5.
THAYER (3-2) – Maddy Kerley 15, Avery Pierce 5, Katie Wade 2, Jurnee Rolen 9, Shelby Coursey 15, Callie Johnson 3.
Up next: Central vs. Waynesville, 7:30 p.m., Friday at Weiser Gym; Thayer vs. Classen, 7:30 p.m., Friday, at O’Reilly Family Event Center.