The Valdosta Daily Times
Staying focused after halftime has been an issue for the Lowndes girls basketball team this season.
But the Vikettes had no such problems — or really, any others — Friday in the first round of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs as they turned a big halftime lead into a 62-29 rout of visiting Newnan.
"[We] kept the intensity level up," said Lowndes coach Brittany Ferguson. "They saw that they had an advantage and they continued to play. I'm very proud of them.
"Usually when they see they have a lead they begin to drowse out a little bit and not play as hard, but they continued to keep the intensity up."
The 18-8 Vikettes led 36-14 at halftime after a big second quarter in which Lowndes outscored the 7-22 Cougars 19-4 behind a smothering defense turned transition offense.
And with their intensity maintained in the playoff opener, Lowndes continued to pour it on in the third quarter, scoring 19 more points en route to a 55-23 lead going into the final quarter.
With the score 59-24 at the halfway mark in the fourth quarter both teams’ reserves took the court for the game's final four minutes, much to the delight of Ferguson.
"First of all, for the kids that log a lot of minutes, it's always a good idea if you can get them off of their feet and get some rest for the next game," said Ferguson. "But the most important part is getting the experience.
"You never know, we can go into the next game and get in foul trouble, or God forbid, somebody gets hurt, somebody to come off the bench is so valuable."
Lowndes' senior captain Tashia Brown had another big night in what could have been her final high school game. The Western Kentucky signee had 21 points in the victory to ensure she would get another home game Monday.
"I told [Tashia] she's going to look back on this and smile one day," said Ferguson.
"It's going to eventually come to a close, hopefully with a state championship, but she'll look back on these days and as long as she's having fun, that's all that really matters."
Coming into Friday's game Newnan knew they would have to try to limit Brown's effectiveness, but some excellent play from Tierra Barnes prevented the Cougars from focusing too much on Brown.
Barnes had eight points in the game to go along with the bevy of pinpoint passes to set the table for her teammates.
Ferguson recognized Barnes’ ability to take some of the play-making pressure off of Brown.
"It's huge," said Ferguson. "We worked on passing as one of the fundamental things we work on everyday and, being a point guard, she's a key component of us doing well, especially passing the ball."
Throughout the first quarter it would have been hard to predict that Lowndes would run away with the game as Newnan stymied the Vikettes in the half-court, especially under the basket, with a physical defensive effort.
It wouldn't be until Lowndes started to run the court and get out in transition that it began to pull away. The Vikettes deployed full-court pressure on the Cougars, forcing off-target passes and deflections, turning turnovers into baskets on the other end to take a 17-10 lead after the first quarter.
"I've been teaching that since August or October when we got started, but it's better late than never," said Ferguson. "That's something we want to do, continue to push offensively and defensively. I told them to run the floor and it paid off for them tonight."
In the second quarter everything started to click for the Vikettes both offensively and defensively as they continued to get out in transition and get to the rim, but the girls also settled into their half-court defense, making for a long quarter for the Cougars on offense.
Brown provided the perfect symbol of the Vikettes' play Friday on one possession, blocking a Newnan shot attempt and tossing a perfect full-court pass to Di'era DeLoatch for a layup on the other end.
After a basket early in the second quarter, Newnan would not score again until Nashara Baker hit two free throws with 11 seconds left in the half to pull within 22 before going to the locker rooms.
Lowndes' second round opponent was also decided Friday when Hillgrove defeated Alcovy 84-45. The Vikettes will host the Hawks at 6 p.m. Monday.