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The Person High School girls’ basketball team took a 32-21 lead into the half against Eastern Alamance, but coach Jay Carmichael was less than satisfied.
The Rockets raced out to a double-digit lead within the first few minutes and appeared poised to make quick work of the Eagles, but just weren’t able to put them away.
Carmichael asked his girls a direct question at the half, got an answer he could live with and they kept Eastern at arms length the rest of the way for a 61-46 win at home.
The Rockets improve to 11-1 on the season and 3-0 in Mid-State play, two days after falling to undefeated 4A power Ragsdale 56-41. Carmichael believes that the effects of Wednesday’s tough, physical game against Ragsdale were still present Friday.
“We had a good practice Thursday, but an easy practice because we were banged up and tired. We came out and it showed in how we played,” Carmichael said. “We just seemed really slow and a step behind mentally and physically. I told the girls the girls after the game that one positive takeaway was that we still won the game. We could have easily not played how we needed to against a good team and get beat. We have a team full of players who love to win and hate to lose and I’m glad that we got the win, but we can play much better.”
Person’s signature full-court pressure defense overwhelmed Eastern Alamance in the opening minutes. The Rockets forced several early turnovers and raced out to a quick 12-2 lead after point guard Jewel Holloway took her defender off the dribble and scored at the rim four minutes into the game.
The Eagles called a timeout, regrouped, and started dissecting Person’s press for uncontested layups.
“We looked good in the beginning,” Carmichael said. “Our tempo shook them a bit. He called a timeout and got some things straight and they started beating our press and beating us down the court and I wasn’t happy with that. There’s no way that should happen, we’re too fast. Getting out to that fast start and giving ourselves that cushion with how we played the rest of the game was big.”
Eastern was as close as six in the second quarter before the Rockets ended the half with a 5-0 burst to take a 32-21 lead into the locker room.
But the players and coaches weren’t exactly thrilled with how that first half went and it was there that they made a defensive change.
“At halftime, after I got on them, I said to them, ‘I don’t care what defense we run, if we don’t execute, it doesn’t matter. What defense do you want to run that you’re going to execute?,” Carmichael said. “They said (the half-court, extended zone pressure), so there it is. That’s why we ran it because that’s what they wanted to do. That was not the coach’s decision. That was leadership on the players part.”
The Eagles got a bucket on their first possession of the second half, but were held scoreless for the next five minutes against the Rockets’ relentless half-court extended zone press.
Person ripped off 10 straight points, capped off by a 3-pointer from the wing by Nydriya Marner that pushed the lead to 42-33 with 3:38 to play in the third.
Senior forward Aliyah Love played at the top of the zone and made it difficult for Eastern to run any semblance of an offense during that five-minute scoring drought.
“Aliyah Love at the top with her length is definitely a factor. I love her length,” Carmichael said. “She’s quick side-to-side and she can get out and run and dribble the ball. She has all the tools needed to run the top of our press.”
Eastern was never closer than 13 for the remainder of the game.
Marner led a balanced Rocket attack with 17 points, her seventh double-digit outing in the last eight games.
Holloway finished with 13 points, while Love poured in 11.
Octavia Thompson came off the bench and chipped in eight, while her sister, Alexzia, finished with five. Aaliyah Jones added four, while Jakayla Betts contributed two. DaNiya Richardson rounded out the Rockets’ scoring with one.
Amiyah Evans led Eastern with 10 points.
Person has a big week ahead starting with a game at Western Alamance (5-4, 2-1) Tuesday before a showdown with defending Mid-State and 3A state champion Northern Guilford (7-3, 2-0) Friday at home.
“We have to rest this weekend so our energy is up and have a good practice Monday,” Carmichael said. “Western Alamance is always tough to play at their place. It’s going to be another tough game and we have to be ready and then we’ll get two games to get ready for a huge game at home against Northern Guilford.”