Bound for round 2: Tipps, Littlejohn each score 16 points, Red Devils advance to play Cougars

Newton-Conover bounced back from a loss to Bandys last week in the CVAC tournament and took their frustrations out on Starmount.

The Lady Red Devils (22-3) overcame a 9-2 deficit early in game and exploded in the second quarter on their way to a huge first round playoff win over the Lady Rams.

Newton-Conover coach Jonathan Tharpe expected nothing less of his team despite the difficult loss on Friday.

"The one thing about our team is that we have enough seniors and experienced players," Tharpe said. "Not beating Bandys didn't end our season and it didn't change the outcome of our season. It was a tough game and Bandys is a tough team. I think our conference has two of the best teams in the state."

The Lady Rams (10-13) began the game on a hot streak, making three 3-point baskets in the first 1:42. Point guard Kelly Bonner made two of those. That forced an early timeout by the home team.

"[Kelly] Bonner is a great player," said N-C coach Jonathan Tharpe. "When I scouted her, I told the girls she does everything. She is quick, even though she isn't explosively fast. She is quick with her moves, head fakes and shot releases."

During the timeout, Tharpe made a switch on defense by putting Shynese Whitener on Bonner to protect the outside threat.

"Shynese is a little longer," Tharpe said. "I wanted Shynese to get her hands up and maybe extend [Bonner] out just a little further on the 3-point line."

The decision worked, as Bonner was limited offensively and the Lady Red Devils clawed back to tie the game at 16-16 by the end of the quarter. However, Bonner was 5-for-7 on her field goals in the quarter and also had an assist.

Newton-Conover (22-3) surged in the second quarter behind Quazzy Tipps and Tiana Littlejohn. The two combined for 12 of the Lady Red Devil's 21 points in the quarter.

"Both of them ran the floor well in the second and third quarter," Tharpe said. "I think they made some smart decisions, smart passes and really got the ball to other people who were already out there in transition."

Bonner continued to pace her team and made two more 3-point baskets, a total of five by halftime, and scored 21 of the Lady Ram's 28 first half points.

"When a point guard like that drops 21 points in the first half, it opens your eyes," Tharpe said. "In the second half, I think we understood fundamentally that we had to get a hand in her face. We knew if we came out in the second half and limited her openness, we could shut them down."

Newton-Conover did a much better job in the second half of playing defense against Bonner. She was limited offensively, which forced many of her teammates to get involved in the action.

Among those was post player Amber Wooten, who scored three points in the third quarter.

The Lady Red Devils set a torrid pace offensively and defensively in the quarter though and outscored the Lady Rams 21-8. Leading the way were a slew of players, including Littlejohn, who had five points, and the trio of Tipps, Whitener and Kadesha Gibbs, who each had four points.

"I expected my kids to come out and play mentally hard," Tharpe said. "I thought we did some really good things. I think once we get out and run, it opens up things for us."

Bonner's hot streak became cold in the second half, as she was just 1-for-10 on her shots with most of them being 3-point attempts.

The Lady Red Devils continued to score late and Starmount continued to struggle, as Newton-Conover took the opening round game.

Tipps and Littlejohn led Newton-Conover with 16 points each. Samiya Pitts added 13 points.

Bonner finished with a game-high 28 points for Starmount, including six 3-pointers.

The Lady Red Devils now look ahead to a Wednesday date at Mountain Heritage (19-7). Tharpe believes the tough season his team has endured will help them in the tough game against the Lady Cougars.

"They are a mountain team," Tharpe said. "Those teams are always tough. They are long, big, smart and disciplined. Speed-wise most mountain teams aren't as fast as we are, but they are bigger and longer. We have to got to be disciplined on offense and execute. We also have to be prepared to go on the road and win ball games. I think the games we have played this season have prepared of us for that."