In the epic battle between Newton-Conover and Hickory girls’ basketball teams, round two goes to the Lady Red Devils.
Shynese Whitener scored a game-high 23 points, including four clutch free throws in the final two minutes of Wednesday’s game. The Lady Red Devils advanced to the championship game of the Catawba Valley Classic with a 68-65 win past the Tornadoes.
“This win means a lot,” Whitener said. “It is just a game that we all love playing because it is against Hickory. It felt great to beat them on their court.
Hickory was without impact player Hillary Sigmon in the opening moments, who got into foul trouble and only scored three points in the first half.
The Red Devils then jumped out to a surprising double-digit lead in the first half, which included a barrage of layups from Tornado turnovers.
Hickory’s Jada Payne played well in the first half and helped keep her team in the game. She scored 13 points in the first half and kept the Lady Red Devils’ lead at nine, 37-28.
With Payne’s help and a returning Sigmon, Hickory was able to mount a comeback in the second half and took the lead before the end of the third quarter.
The Tornado’s full-court press and zone defense limited the Lady Red Devils to eight points in the third quarter. Hickory gained the 46-45 lead heading into the fourth.
Despite the adversity, the Lady Red Devils remained positive and focused.
“They just continued to support one another,” said Newton-Conover head coach Jonathan Tharpe. “Both teams are going to make runs back and forth. You can’t fall into the trap of having a big lead and not doing the things you should offensively and defensively. I just told them to keep fighting.”
In a game where every point mattered, it came down to the free-throw line. Despite making 20 free throws in the game, the Tornadoes missed 16 free throws.
Newton-Conover was extremely clutch from the “charity stripe” and equal Hickory’s mark of 20 free throws, while having 26 attempts. Whitener was stellar from the line, going 11-for-13.
“I just wanted to make them,” Whitener said. “Coach has really been on us about making our free throws. He tells us that free throws can win the ball game and make or break you.”
Tharpe emphasized the need for his players to make their opportunities at the free throw line.
“We talk about it all the time,” Tharpe said. “You can win and lose games at the foul line. We have been on it all season. We have kids who are prime time players and get to the free throw line and haven’t been making their foul shots. They have been working on it in practice a lot.”
Free throws from Whitener, as well as layups by Kadesha Gibbs and Samiya Pitts on back-to-back possessions, pushed the Lady Red Devils back into the lead.
Under the 2-minute mark, Newton-Conover ran out nearly a minute of time before Whitener found a wide-open Gibbs under the basket for the score to give Newton-Conover a 64-59 lead.
The Tornadoes weren’t finished and immediately came down the court and scored on a three-pointer by Payne. Sigmon stole the ensuing in-bounds pass and look to tie the game up.
However, Sigmon made 1-of-2 attempts and that was as close as the Tornadoes got.
“We have been trying to do this for years,” Whitener said. “We just worked as a team. The victory felt great.”