North Lenoir's season ends to undefeated NCSSM
DURHAM | The N.C. School of Science and Math may have remained undefeated, but it wasn't easy.
North Lenoir fought hard, but fell 55-44 in the second round of the NCHSAA 2A state playoffs. The Unicorns (31-0) got separation in the third quarter and never looked back.
The Hawks (15-9) did post the most points on the NCSSM defense since the Unicorns defeated Garner 55-47 on Jan. 21, but it wasn't enough.
"(NCSSM) is a good team," North Lenoir coach Howard Wooley said. "They're fundamentally sound and stay within what they do. We didn't have an answer for (Lalia Barnes) in the post and her supporting cast did a great job."
The first half featured eight lead changes and five ties. After not scoring for the game's first 3:37, Ashanti Lynch's basket triggered a 7-2 run to put North Lenoir ahead. Lynch wouldn't play the entire second quarter due to two early fouls, but Integrity McPhail's three 3-pointers helped pace the Hawks attack, including one to put the team ahead 18-15 late in the second. On the other end, Aneesha Manocha hit a jumper, then later connected on a 3-pointer as the Unicorns took a 20-18 halftime advantage.
Lynch scored to start the third, but Barnes answered with a pair of putbacks. North Lenoir tied the game at 24, but Barnes' two free throws started an 11-1 run, punctuated by an Anna Coley 3-pointer to take control. Coley hit another 3-pointer as time expired to give NCSSM a 42-31 advantage.
"I think we just came out with more energy in the second half," Unicorns coach Taurean Newton said. "Our shots weren't falling early, so I told the girls we have to get it done on the defensive end. We stopped the shooter and everything else fell into place."
The Hawks got within 47-41 on a Kanijah Taylor basket with 1:39 left, but the Unicorns closed the game at the line.
Wooley said despite the setback, he was proud of the team's efforts all year.
"We had a great season and accomplished quite a bit," Wooley said. "Even though we were down big, the girls fought back, which was a testament to their character."
Barnes had 22 points and 19 rebounds for the Unicorns with Coley adding all 13 of her points in the second half. For North Lenoir, Lynch scored 14, McPhail had 12 and Taylor added 11.