Triton freshman drops career-high 34 in AAC semis

By DONNELL COLEY
Sports editor
Posted 2/16/22

JaNiah Smith powered a late charge from visiting Triton Wednesday against one of the top-ranked girls teams in the state.

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Triton freshman drops career-high 34 in AAC semis

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FAYETTEVILLE — Coming into Wednesday's All American Conference Tournament semifinal at top-seeded Terry Sanford, Triton's girls basketball team was overpowered in the regular-season matchups between the two squads. 

Lady Hawks newcomer JaNiah Smith says she and her teammates were determined for a better showing, proving as much during a 71-59 loss in which the freshman guard led all scorers with a game-high 34 points. 

"It feels good and I couldn't do it without my teammates," Smith said after setting a career mark that coincidentally matched the average margin of defeat suffered in the first two meetings. 

"As a team, we just wanted to go out there and beat them. So we just came and we brought it."

With the win, Terry Sanford (25-0) remains unbeaten and advances to the AAC title game Friday to host E.E. Smith.

Triton (15-7) coach Richard Rozier wasn't short for words when describing Smith's performance, especially after scoring just 10 points combined in the previous two meetings and coming off a three-point outing in Tuesday's win over Pine Forest. 

"You have to be a different animal for that. That's just what she is– in the most affectionate way," he said of Smith's competitive nature.

"She has a 'Mamba Mentality'  ... the moment is not too big for her and that's the best thing to have in a freshman. She's fearless."

Smith had just nine points at the half, using her quickness to draw fouls and knock down 7 of 8 free throws as Triton trailed 27-17.

With Tamia Morris – who had a team-high 21 points –and the high-powered Lady Bulldogs offense clicking to start the second half, Smith answered with 13 in the third. 

She put in a tough layup off the glass, plus the foul, that trimmed the margin to 33-22 at the 4:36 mark.  Still, the Lady Hawks trailed 53-34 heading into the fourth. 

But another fast-paced period saw Smith and fellow backcourt mate A’Shari Watlington (10 points) combine for 22 points.  Smith hit a trio of 3-pointers in the frame, the last of which came in transition to bring the margin to 67-55 with just under two minutes to play. 

But the Lady Hawks would get no closer, ending its chances at a league title.

Triton now awaits Saturday when its state playoff matchup is set to be released by the North Carolina High School Association.  

Miya Giles-Jones added 16 points for Terry Sanford in the win.  

Donnell Coley can be reached at dcoley@mydailyrecord.com or 910-230-2040. 

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