Sole possession of first place in District 9-6A went down to the final seconds between the Allen and Plano East girls basketball teams on Friday.
Be it a case of youth versus experience, or just timely execution by a team starting to round into midseason form, the Lady Eagles mustered one more play than the Lady Panthers in a back-and-forth scrap decided on a go-ahead basket by Allen junior Mackenzie Wurm, which lifted Allen to a 35-34 road victory over state-ranked East.
Unbeaten in district play at 3-0, the Lady Eagles prevailed in a bout where the lead changed hands twice inside the final 30 seconds. The last of those belonged to Allen, which dialed up an inbounds play that led to Wurm strolling into the paint unguarded for an open layup that she converted with roughly 15 seconds to go for a 35-34 lead.
“It’s all about finishing. We ran that same play before and we hadn’t run it right all game, but we still felt like we could get it to go and that it gave us our best chance of finishing this one,” said Teresa Durham, Allen head coach.
“I think we just had someone get caught up in a screen and it just opened up for [Wurm],” added Jessica Linson, East head coach.
The Lady Panthers scrambled back up the floor for some heroics of their own, but a floater in the lane by sophomore Kayla Cooper bounced off the back iron and out as time expired to seal Allen’s third district victory.
East had mustered some momentum prior to the finish, erasing a 31-29 deficit in the game’s closing minutes as Allen attempted to run time off the clock. Despite doing so for nearly two minutes, the Lady Eagles coughed the ball up near half court on a steal by junior Thalia Merritt that was scooped up and finished on the other end by sophomore Donavia Hall to knot the contest at 31-31.
Hall came through again moments later after draining a 3-pointer that put East on top, 34-33, with 26 seconds to play.
“[Hall] had actually been out of town, so this was her first game back since the [Dallas ISD Holiday Invitational],” Linson said. “We knew this was coming. She’s the type of player that can take over any game and she gave us a huge five points in a row.”
The Lady Eagles had a response ready, which didn’t appear to be the case early on after Allen managed only three makes from the field en route to just 10 points scored in the first half, trailing East, 19-10, at the break.
“We didn’t show up in the first half. East totally outworked us early on and we acted like we were ready to roll over,” Durham said. “We knew that wasn’t our best effort, so we went back and talked about our goals and I know that if my kids give their best effort, we have a great chance to win.”
Allen erased that deficit midway through the third quarter on a flurry of 3-pointers from senior Tyler Jackson, who scored all 12 of her points from beyond the arc. Three of those triples came in the third quarter and, coupled with some stingy interior defense by senior Zoe McCrary, the Lady Eagles outscored East, 13-2, in the quarter to regain control.
Although the Lady Panthers soon found their bearings, they were still playing catch-up for most of the fourth quarter thanks to a series of acrobatic finishes in the paint from Allen junior Zoe Jackson, who added eight points in the win.
“She’s just so explosive and can get to the rim, which makes her so tough to guard. She did a great job getting to the rim,” Durham said.
The Lady Panthers were led by nine points from freshman Taylor Haggan, who did her damage in the first half before the likes of Hall (seven points) and Cooper (five) nearly willed East to the win late.
“They played a great game. Allen is a solid team and we were right there,” Linson said. “I hate to say it’s a moral victory, but that’s an experienced team and we’re still babies. There was no reason for them to have their heads down because they played a great game.”
The Lady Panthers look to bounce back at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday on the road against Plano Senior, while Allen has a bye before continuing district play at 7:30 p.m. Friday at McKinney Boyd.