In spite of losing just three games all season, the Coahoma County High School girls were given an 11 percent chance of winning the Class 2A basketball championship going into the state tournament.
The Lady Red Panthers (29-3, 10-0) used being an underdog as motivation and are just one game away from the title. They will face Calhoun City in the championship at 1 p.m. Friday at Ole Miss.
“They took a Twitter survey that was going around about chances of teams winning,” said CCHS coach Derrick Moore. “They had New Site girls with an 89 percent chance on the Twitter poll.”
CCHS defeated New Site in the quarterfinals.
The Lady Red Panthers’ three losses came to Greenville, Tupelo and Clarksdale high schools. Moore said they were only at full strength against Greenville.
“When we saw that poll at 11 percent knowing that we had only lost one game all year, we knew we were much better than that.”
CCHS defeated Bay Springs 53-37 in the semifinals at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson Tuesday.
Foul trouble led to the Lady Red Panthers trailing 23-18 at halftime.
“We were up 9 and then we picked up like five quick fouls,” Moore said. “We had to take three of our starters out and they went on like a 14-0 run just like that.”
Then, Moore said he was able to get his starters back on the floor and none of his athletes fouled out.
Senior forward Nakia Cheatham, who finished with a double-double of 17 points, 15 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks, had the most fouls on the team with four. Senior wing Shakira Artis scored all 14 of her points in the second half and connected on four 3-pointers. She also had 3 rebounds, 1 steal and 1 block.
Free throws were an issue in the quarterfinals when New Site intentionally fouled CCHS late. They were 9 for 19 from the line against Bay Springs, but they shot more free throws against New Site.
“They (Bay Springs) didn’t have to foul as much,” Moore said.
Senior guard Calysia Phillips finished with 8 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds and 1 steal. Junior power forward Tyana McClenton finished with 9 points, 11 rebounds and 1 block. Sophomore guard Nyriah Artis scored 5 points, had 5 assists, 3 rebounds and 1 steal.
Looking ahead to Calhoun City, Moore was confident the Lady Red Panthers could win if they play defense the way they normally do.
“Calhoun City is a team that likes to press,” Moore said. “If we beat the pressure, we’ll be alright.”
Quick start leads Lady Red Panthers to 48-35 win
The girls jumped out to an 8-2 lead with 5:50 remaining in the first period in the quarterfinals against New Site at Mississippi Valley State University Thursday thanks to 3-pointers from Phillips and Shakira Artis.
Cheatham scored 7 of the last 9 points for the Lady Red Panthers to give them a 15-6 advantage at the end of the period. A Phillips 2-pointer with 7:23 remaining in the half extended the lead to double digits at 17-6.
That fast start led CCHS to a 48-35 victory.
“They were focused,” Moore said. “They knew what it was from the jump. They wanted it.”
Nyriah Artis connected on CCHS’s third and final 3-pointer of the game with 7:43 to play in the third quarter to give the Lady Red Panthers a 23-12 lead.
The Lady Red Panthers managed to rely on defense and drawing fouls throughout much of the game.
Shakira Artis the most fouls on the Lady Red Panthers with three.
Cheatham and Phillips each took charges throughout the game. Cheatham also had several blocked shots.
“We had a mismatch with Nakia down low,” Moore said. “They were kind of small down there, so Nakia created some havoc down there.
“She’s long. She told me. She said, ‘Coach, I got you.’ With that right there, I’m confident.”
The defense and inside game helped break things open in the third quarter as the Lady Red Panthers went on an 8-2 run in less than a five-minute span. That gave them a 35-18 lead with 1:25 to play in the period.
Cheatham scored 4 of the points during the run and Phillips took a charge with 3:25 to play in the third. McClenton scored the other 4 points of the run including an offensive rebound and put back with 3:06 remaining in the period.
Cheatham led the way with 17 points in the game followed by Phillips with 10.
“They’re skill players,” Moore said. “We knew that once we got in a position where they had to come out hard, it was to our advantage.”
Moore’s one concern after the win against the Lady Royals was CCHS’s free throw shooting.
The Lady Red Panthers were just 17 of 36 from the charity stripe.
With CCHS ahead 35-19 going into the fourth quarter, New Site began intentionally fouling. The Lady Red Panthers, on repeated occasions, made 1 of 2 from the line. They were 11 of 22 from the line during the period.
Phillips shot 10 free throws in the final quarter and made just 5.
Moore knew his team would not be able to win close games in the semifinals and championship unless the players performed better from the line.
“We mentioned that,” Moore said. “It may have been a little fatigue on top of it. Still, all in all, you’ve got to close out with free throws.”
McClenton finished with 9 points, Shakira and Nyriah Artis scored 5 each, and sophomore Tamaria Edwards and freshman forward Zandria Martin contributed 1 each.