It was often easy for Northwest Whitfield girls basketball coach Greg Brown to be reminded that Tuesday’s game against Woodland-Bartow was his team’s first game of the season.
Fortunately for Brown and the Lady Bruins, it also was their first win.
Northwest withstood a late charge from Class 5A’s Lady Wildcats during a 66-54 victory in the opening round at Southeast Whitfield’s Thanksgiving Hoopfest.
Sparked by a late third quarter run, the Lady Bruins held a 61-41 lead with just less than six minutes left in the game. From that point, Northwest did not score again until Alice Ann Barber made a free throw with 2:05 to play to give her team a 62-53 lead. Woodland had scored 12 straight points to climb back into the game.
“I think that’s when it showed more than at any other time that this was our first game,” Brown said. “We haven’t had a whole lot of time to work on end-of-game situations.”
However, Lady Bruins point guard Halle Ford, who spent much of the first half on the bench due to foul trouble, sank four free throws in the final two minutes to help clinch the victory. It took a while for Ford to start making an impact again, but she finished with 13 points and six assists while leading the team in trips to the foul line with a 9-for-13 effort.
“Once I go back in, I am fine,” Ford said.
The Lady Wildcats led 10-7 halfway through the first period, and they already were in the bonus by that point. Ford, a senior and third-year starter, picked up two fouls in the first minute.
“That hurts us, obviously, but we got three freshman some playing time,” Brown said.
In Ford’s absence, senior forward Autumn Blackwell thrived by forcing turnovers and scoring in transition, finishing with 16 points, eight steals and eight rebounds. She helped Northwest to a 19-16 lead after the first quarter and a 36-31 edge at halftime.
“When Autumn does what she’s capable of doing and plays within herself, she is very good,” Brown said. “Sometimes she gets a little out of control when she doesn’t have to, because she is so athletic.”
A 10-0 run to end the third quarter helped Northwest start the final period with a 55-36 lead. That included six points in the third quarter’s final minute as Liz Trew scored, Ford intercepted a pass and scored and Blackwell forced a steal and scored.
“We just got impatient and kind of quit doing what we were doing the first three quarters,” Lady Wildcats coach Colman Roberts said. “They’re a good team and you can’t turn the ball over against a good team like Northwest.”
Barber had eight points, while Trew collected seven.
For Woodland, Marissa Dubox had 10 points and seven rebounds, while Ayrianna Metcalf and Kennedy Robinson each finished with nine points.
The Lady WIldcats took 42 free throws, making just 23. Northwest finished 23 of 39 from the charity stripe.
Girls teams at the Southeast Thanksgiving Hoopfest are playing in a non-elimination bracketed format, while boys teams are split into two pools to set up Saturday’s place games.
The only girls game scheduled for today is a 5:30 p.m. matchup between Tri-Cities and Tennessee’s Meigs County. The loser of that game will play Dalton at 2:30 p.m. Friday, while the winner will play Southeast. Dalton received a bye into the consolation bracket and Southeast received a bye into the championship bracket.
Tuesday’s other tournament games — Meadowcreek’s girls faced Gordon Lee, Rockmart’s boys played Meadowcreek and Gordon Lee’s boys took on the host Raiders — were not reported by The Daily Citizen’s deadline.
• Murray County girls 55, Ridgeland 52: Trailing by 13 heading into the fourth quarter, defense became the catalyst for a season-opening comeback for the Lady Indians in the Zaxby’s Thanksgiving Classic at Ridgeland High.
The Lady Panthers led 12-8 after the first quarter, 22-19 at halftime and 42-29 heading into the final period. Ridgeland still led heading into the final minute after Murray County considerably trimmed the lead.
“Our shots were off but we picked it up on defense and started creating our own offense from the defense,” Lady Indians coach Michael Hill said. “We just slowly chipped away through the fourth quarter.”
Hollie Stanfield finished with 19 points for Murray County but her final seven were the biggest. In the final minute, she hit a 3-pointer and made four free throws. Ashlee Strong added 10 points, while McKenzie Carroll had seven.
• Ridgeland boys 70, Murray County 63: Brady Todd led with 21 points in the season opener as the Indians could not hold on in the fourth quarter of the Zaxby’s Thanksgiving Classic.
Murray County led 15-12 after the first quarter and 48-45 after the third, but the shots started falling for the Panthers in the final period, while the Indians could not retaliate.
“It was a close game,” Murray County coach Greg Linder said. “I thought the guys played really hard. I thought the difference in the game was they made shots and we didn’t in the fourth quarter.”
Cesar Romero had 14 points and Dillion Cantrell tallied 11 for the Indians.
• Christian Heritage’s junior varsity girls topped Southeast’s freshman squad 39-22, improving to 2-1 behind a pair of 13-point efforts from Pressley Poag and Hannah Long. Emily Beck paced the Lady Raiders with six points.