With the postseason right around the corner, the McKinney North girls basketball team got as worthy a tune-up for the playoff pressure cooker as they could have hoped for Tuesday night.
The Lady Bulldogs went all four quarters plus a pair of overtimes with District 10-5A front-runner Wylie East and had chances to shoot for the win at the end of both regulation and the first extra frame.
North missed the mark on both occasions, and in double overtime, the Lady Raiders capitalized.
East outscored the Lady Bulldogs 9-1 over the final four minutes to outlast North 68-60 and claim the outright district championship. The Lady Bulldogs close out the regular season at 12-2 in district play and will enter the playoffs as the league’s No. 2 seed.
“We’re getting to go into a new season now. The playoffs are our third season, and it’s going to be as good as they want it to be,” said Veronica Reed-Hamilton, North head coach.
It’ll mean building off the lessons learned during Tuesday’s rematch with the state-ranked Lady Raiders, who got better of North earlier in the season on Jan. 8, 53-50. The encore went down to the wire as well with North rallying from a double-digit, first-half deficit to draw even at 41-41 entering the fourth quarter.
The last eight minutes of regulation featured five more ties as well as three lead changes between the two rivals, including a 55-53 advantage for the Lady Bulldogs with 1:25 to play after freshman Kaelyn Hamilton side-stepped the East defense for a layup. The Lady Raiders managed to draw even on a pair of free throws from Taylor Dailey but wouldn’t touch the ball for the rest of regulation as North ran down the final minute of the fourth quarter before attempting the game-winning shot.
Taking two timeouts in between, the Lady Bulldogs’ initial look at the go-ahead bucket was stifled by East’s towering defense and a chance at a put-back missed the mark, as North and East remained gridlocked at 55-55 through four quarters.
Despite four straight Lady Raider points from reigning district MVP Akasha Davis to begin overtime, North pulled even with 35 ticks to go after freshman Ciara Harris forced a turnover and converted a layup to make it 59-59. North generated another takeaway on East’s ensuing possession and had a second crack at some last-second heroics. That attempt fell short as well, as North struggled to generate a clean look at the basket.
“We’re going to get there. That was the message when they came out — it’s hard, and we’re learning as we go,” Reed-Hamilton said.
With the Lady Raiders on the defensive late, the 10-5A champions took matters into their own hands mere seconds into double overtime. Keyera Roseby scored on a quick layup for a 61-59 lead and East kept North at bay the rest of the way.
Despite North creeping within one point on a Hamilton free throw, the Lady Raiders scored the final seven points of the ballgame — all courtesy of Dailey, who gave East some breathing room on a 3-pointer with 1:15 to go and sunk four free throws inside the final minute to help the Lady Raiders hang on.
Dailey finished the night with 16 points as a welcome complement to the frontcourt of Davis and LeAire Nicks, who combined for 37 points. Davis alone accounted for 21 points and 21 rebounds, scoring six of her eight makes from the field on put-backs.
That size helped stake East to a 32-24 halftime lead before North chipped away on the defensive end. The Lady Bulldogs jumped passing lanes and poked the ball loose routinely, forcing eight turnovers to pace a 17-9 advantage in the third quarter to pull even at 41-41.
“Earlier, we weren’t doing some of the fundamentally sound things that we work on everyday — getting in deny and backside help,” Reed-Hamilton said. “They’re a load and when the ball goes inside, we’re supposed to sink in there and make it hard on them. I don’t think we really did that tonight, but we battled.”
Hamilton and Harris led the way with 24 and 15 points, respectively. Hamilton added four steals and two blocks, while Harris chipped in seven steals and two blocks. Juniors Alexia Catchings and Jayden Smallwood helped North stretch the floor to the tune of eight points apiece.
“While they’re so much bigger than us, I think we’re quicker,” Reed-Hamilton said. “If we could just settle down and make good decisions when we do attack the basket — make that extra pass and just drive into the land of giants, I think we can get more out of it. They’re just so big.”
With the regular season in the books, North looks to right the ship in time for the start of the playoffs next week. They’ll take on reigning Class 5A state champion Frisco Liberty, which finished third in the all-Frisco 9-5A district, in the bi-district round at a time and place to be determined.