Western Harnett and Triton put on a show for basketball fans Friday night, with the Eagles coming away victorious in both Tri-County Conference contests. Senior guard Lahaina “LaLa” Bell dropped 32 to fuel the Eagles to a 44-39 win, and Tyrese Jones posted eight points in overtime to rally Western by Triton 64-61.
Girls defense pays off
Triton started out strong in the girls’ game and jumped out to a 17-6 lead in the first quarter. But Western fired back in the second thanks to some adjustments by head coach Matthew Smith.
“We started kind of rough,” Smith said. “We stuck back in a 2-3 [defense], because we’d been so good in the 2-3. But tonight, we just didn’t have it, so I said, ‘Look, let’s just go man. Let’s run a little bit and I’ll get you a breath and go back to 2-3.’”
The choice paid off. Triton’s offense completely stalled out and Western took control of the game, outscoring the Hawks 23-5 in the period to take a 29-22 lead into halftime.
“It was not a nice halftime (in the locker room),” Smith said. “I was not real happy, even though we were up. We had to travel that far to get up. I said, ‘They’re killing us just because they’re beating us up and down the court. We don’t play that. We’re going to rebound the ball.’ I had Emonni Barber come in tonight and even though she’s kind of undersized, I know she’s the strongest girl at Western Harnett. That comes from coach (Blake) Culbertson, the football coach, because he has her in weightlifting. And she can D on anybody because she is so strong. That was the best performance I’ve seen her have.”
LaLa Bell had 19 points in the second quarter and 23 at the break. Triton head coach Wendy Simmons was disappointed with her team’s inability to stop Bell all night.
“We got beat in the second quarter,” Simmons said. “Honestly, by one person. We knew what [Bell] did before in the Tipoff Tournament [when she scored 33 points in a 43-29 win by Western]. And then at our place, we played really good defense on her and she only scored 10. Then tonight, I don’t know. I tried different people there and it seemed like when I had certain people out, the other ones didn’t take up the defense like they’re supposed to. And we got in foul trouble, and it just took us out of our game.”
Bell led all scorers with 32 points. Kayling Matson had four points, Kaile McLean, Emonni Barber and Makyia Mackey each had two points and Javona Farrington and Taija Pruitt each had one point to round out the scoring for Western (10-11, 3-5).
Seniors Anaya Lockamy and Hannah Jackson had 10 and nine points respectively to lead Triton (8-14, 3-5). Zoie Starling had seven points, Kaila Cooney and Jordan Miles each had five points and Alexis Howard had three points.
Both teams split their conference head-to-heads with the home team winning both games, but Western would hold the tie breaker thanks to the season-opening victory in the Harnett County Tipoff.
Boys rally in overtime
After Western got off to a dream start in the boys’ game, Triton managed to battle all the way back and even had a look at the end of regulation to win it. But Tyrese Jones took over the game in overtime, scoring eight points to rally the Eagles by the Hawks 64-61.
It’s the second times the two teams have needed extra time to decide a game. Triton came out on top 62-58 in double overtime back in November at the Harnett County Tipoff. But Western got them back in conference play with a pair of joyous wins.
“That first one in double OT hurt,” said Western Harnett boys’ coach Seth Womble. “But Triton’s been so good lately. Since I’ve been a part of Western Harnett, [Triton boys’ coach T.J. Morrison] has been so good and Triton’s had such a good program. That first game, we lost, but it was a good measuring stick to see where our team was. So, I’m just happy that we got the conference wins.”
Seven of Triton’s eight conference games have been decided by six or fewer points this season, including both wins. This one stings especially, considering the Hawks were nearly shut out in the first quarter, missing their first nine shots from the field and turning the ball over six times. Their lone points coming on an old-fashioned 3-point play by Derreon Burnett.
“The first problem is, you dig yourself a hole when you get down 14-3,” said Triton boys’ coach T.J. Morrison. “The first quarter was rough. We’ve had so many nights like tonight where we’re one play away. I think we took the lead one time and didn’t get a stop. We tied it one time and then fouled a kid who made free throws. We’re just one play away. We’ve got to get that last stop, get that last play. It’s a lot of nights. It hurts.”
Senior guard Tre’ Richardson led Western (7-14, 3-5) with a game-high 27 points.
“[Richardson] is averaging over 20,” Womble said. “He’s a captain for us. He’s a great leader. His leadership has grown every year. He’s got an offer to go play college basketball. He’s really motivated and a hard worker and he deserves to go out and play like he does. I couldn’t be more proud to coach a player like him. He’s been pretty consistent for us, and he does that because of his hard work.”
Jones followed up with 16 points. Tobias Dillard added nine points on three-and-a-half dunks and gave Triton fits inside all night. Wesley Lassiter had six points. Tay Davis had five points. Kahlil McLean had two points. Steven Lassiter had one point.
Emari White and Burnett led Triton (9-13, 2-6) with 15 points each. Travion Sanders had 11 points, just barely missing the game-winner on a runner from straight on as time expired. Kalil Hodges had nine points, Josiah Lett had six points and Colby Parker had five points.
After the nightmare start for Triton, the Hawks chipped away at the lead and went into the locker room only down 27-21. The Eagles pushed it back out to 13 early in the third quarter, but the Hawks remained resilient. Burnett opened up the fourth quarter with another 3-point play, and White knocked down a pair of triples to make it 45-43. A couple minutes later, Burnett gave the Hawks their first lead of the game with a pair of free throws to make it 50-49. Western went back ahead on an alley-oop to Dillard, but Burnett scored again to put Triton up 52-51 with about three minutes left.
That was Triton’s last lead though. On the next possession, Richardson hit a 3-pointer to reclaim the lead for Western. Then he knocked down a pair of free throws to make it a four-point game. Still, the Hawks fought back. White got a bucket to halve the deficit, and Hodges tied it up with a pair of clutch free throws with 40 seconds left. Western opted to run the clock down but failed to get off a clean shot attempt. Instead, the ball squirted out to Sanders, who ran ahead of the pack and lofted up a floater on the run as time expired. Sanders’ shot was on line, but drew back iron.
“It seemed like it took forever to get to the basket,” Morrison said of the shot. “At first, I didn’t think it was going to get there. I thought it was going to be short, but then it hits the back of the rim. We talk about, ‘Whatever’s on the clock, you’ve got that plus one, as far as dribbles.’ I think he made a great play. A great effort.”
Both teams opened up overtime with empty possessions before Jones knocked down back-to-back treys to give Western a six-point advantage. After Triton cut it back to one on a basket by Parker and a three by White with under a minute to go, Jones came up big with a tough finish through contact.
“Tyrese is one of the best athletes we’ve got in the school,” Womble said. “He’s really shined out here on the basketball court. He loves playing defense. He had a turnover late in regulation and he took it personal. He wanted to do something to help us win and he did.”