Opening act: Whitener scores 19 points, as N-C advances to semifinals

Monday was a day all about love. For the Lady Red Devils and Lady Bears, it was all about survival.

Newton-Conover's Shynese Whitener scored 19 points and the Lady Red Devils got key bench play down the stretch as they picked up a CVAC tournament first round win against Bunker Hill.

Despite the victory, N-C coach Jonathan Tharpe was disappointed in his team's energy for most of the game.

"This group is senior heavy and experienced," Tharpe said. "They should know mentality-wise what it takes to step foot on the floor and play. I felt like we took it for granted. We forced a few things. I was extremely disappointed in our transition game. It wasn't there. We got in transition, but we never got the scores. We missed a ton of lay ups. It was a disappointing first half and third quarter."

The Lady Red Devils missed out on several opportunities to score in the first quarter and also made some key mistakes passing the basketball.

That left the door open for the Lady Bears to stay in the game and the Newton-Conover lead was just 11-5 at the end of the first.

An 8-2 run in the second quarter sparked the Lady Red Devils and helped in distancing themselves from Bunker Hill. Newton-Conover executed their passes better and began to develop a rhythm.

Junior Shynese Whitener had the hot hand in the second quarter, as she nailed two 3-pointers.

"In the past couple of games, my shots haven't been falling," Whitener said. "I've been coming to practice and working on it. Coach has been telling me to keep my high release. Tonight, it was falling. I just have to take it to the next level."

The Lady Red Devils led 31-15 at the halftime break. However, Tharpe was not happy with the first half performance and he spoke to his team about it.

"We talked at halftime and after the game about the energy," Tharpe said. "You cannot come out with that type of energy and win in the playoffs and conference tournament. It just isn't going to happen."

The speech by Tharpe worked for for many bench players that were inserted into the game. Among those was junior guard Cayla Miller, who scored four of her seven points in the third quarter.

"Our third string came in and gave us a ton of energy," Tharpe said. "Cayla Miller gave us a ton of energy tonight with her presence. She was a spark plug tonight that we needed."

Whitener continued her outside assault, as she made another 3-pointer in the quarter and finished with three 3-pointers in the game.

"We continue to work on her outside shot," Tharpe said. "She can get to the basket and she has a pretty good mid-range shot. She has been working hard on pulling up for a jump shot. The biggest thing for her is her inconsistent outside shot. We've been working on that. She is going to have to take them in games to get used to that."

Defensively, Newton-Conover limited the Bunker Hill offense to just two points in the third quarter and 12 points in the second half.

Bunker Hill ends their season at 4-20, while Newton-Conover will play in the semifinal round at Catawba Valley Community College on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. against the winner of West Caldwell and South Caldwell.

"Tuesday in practice, we are going to have to work harder," Whitener said. "Our energy level is not there obviously. We just have to come in and work hard in practice before games. We'll see where it goes from here."