Both Monticello squads finish tourneys with wins
Taking advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Monticello’s senior girls enjoyed a late Christmas present last weekend. While it didn’t produce the results any of them would like, the Lady Billies proved they could hold their own with some of the nation’s top teams—and that experience could prove to be priceless.
It may just translate into Monticello advancing even further in the Class 4A State Championships than a season ago when the Lady Billies were within one game of making the trip to Hot Springs for the state championship.
Between Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, Monticello dropped host Gulf Breeze, Fla. like a rock in the ocean, 70-43, in the seventh-place game Saturday after two tough losses, 66-65 to undefeated Gadsden (Ala.) Southside last Thursday and 60-50 to Franklin County, Tenn. Friday in the In the Game Innsfree Hotels Pensacola Beach Basketball Event at Gulf Breeze, Fla.
“This was a great experience for our kids,” second-year Monticello head girls’ basketball coach Bobby Lewallen said. “Getting to spend part of our Christmas Break in Florida was a lot of fun. We played an undefeated team down to the wire and fought a tough battle with a very talented Franklin County team—and that will only make us better.
“We want this tournament to help prepare us for regionals and hopefully the state tournament. I’m very happy our administration allowed us this opportunity.”
Returning home with a 12-3 overall mark, Lewallen saw the fruits of that long trip—and the experience it provided—begin to be realized in a 61-34 annihilation of Smackover on the road Tuesday as the Lady Billies got back to concentrating on Arkansas teams.
A Friday trip to Fordyce now is all that stands between Monticello and a rematch against crosstown rival Drew Central in the second “Showdown In M-Town” matchup of 2017-18. Three games (junior boys and both senior teams) tip off at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Dan Coston Field House.
Monticello might have found a different scoring option—as if the potent Lady Billies needed that—in Florida. After scoring just two points in each of their losses, senior Ariana Sanders broke out for a team-high 13 points against the tournament hosts in the win that salvaged one game in the Sunshine State.
Lewallen got production from his usual scorers as well, but admitted a coach can never had too much in that department. Sanders’ classmate, J’Naya Brown, canned four three-point shots en route to her 12 points and junior Shania Smith netted three long-range bombs and was a perfect 3-for-3 at the free-throw line, matching Brown with 12 points. Senior Taylor Donald also reached double figures, chipping in with 11.
“Our defensive pressure was too much for them,” said Lewallen, whose squad outscored Gulf Breeze by at least eight points per quarter until the game was well decided in the fourth period—and then, Monticello came out on top as well. “We forced a lot of turnovers and turned them into offense. J’Naya Brown shot the ball very well, hitting four threes.”
One thing that had to please the second-year coach is that his Lady Billies were 14-for-22 at the charity stripe, including a perfect shooting performance by Donald, Smith and senior Daryn Spencer, and Sanders going 7-for 10. Brown and Smith paced the always-hot Lady Billies from beyond the arc; Monticello ended the game with nine treys.
In the Lady Billies’ other two Florida games, Lewallen said he saw improvement in each. Smith’s 20 points paced Monticello in scoring against Southside and Donald netted a team-high 16 against Franklin County.
“In the first game, we got off to a slow start but battled back,” Lewallen noted. “It was back and forth in the second half. The largest lead for either team was four.
“Taylor Donald had another nice game handling the ball and finding teammates. Chaney Scott and Mariah Austin both played great defense all game. Mariah (5-foot-6) had a tough task, guarding a 6-foot player, but she played her great and rebounded with them as well. Shania Smith and J’Naya Brown shot from outside well. Those two need to keep shooting well for us.
“Southside came into the game undefeated at 10-0. It was a good test for our team with three key players not playing due to injuries. Hopefully, we can get healthy by district tournament time.”
The story of both the game with Southside and the contest against Franklin County really just came down to one quarter. The Alabamans outscored Monticello 19-12 in the first period and the Lady Billies couldn’t recover from that deficit, while Franklin County raced to a 17-8 second quarter that set the tone for Monticello’s second outing in Florida.
“Our game with Franklin County was a tough, physical game,” Lewallen said. “We knew coming in they would bump, hold, deny passes and we’d need to take care of the ball. Taylor and Shania (both of whom were selected to the all-tournament team following the conclusion of the eight-team tournament) did a good job handling their pressure. They weren’t able to play us full court because we handled the ball well.
“Late in the fourth quarter, we had it down to a two-point game with two and a half minutes left. They held the ball on us starting at the 1:45 mark and forced us to foul. They made their free throws down the stretch—and we struggled at the line. We needed to convert at the line. If we had done that, we put ourselves with a lead and putting the pressure on them.”
Indeed, the squad from Tennessee was 20-for-26 from the free-throw line for the game—11-for-13 in the second half alone—while Monticello was just 10-for-26 in the game, 7-for-19 in the second half and, when it counted most, 4-for-11 in the fourth quarter.
Donald scored 17 points in the first round and junior Scott added 13. Scott also reached double figures against Franklin County, chipping in with 10 points.
Tuesday, it was a completely different story.
Racing out to an 18-8 lead after eight minutes, the Lady Billies were able to withstand a less-than-spectacular second quarter and outscored the Lady Roos 31-12 after intermission to improve to 13-3 overall and 7-0 in Class 3A-4A, District 12.
“We played sluggish and had a couple players in early foul trouble,” Lewallen noted about the trip to Smackover. “We played much better in the second half. Taylor Donald did a nice job controlling the tempo in the second half.
“She was able to break down the defense for good shots and also get her teammates involved. Chaney Scott had the tough task of guarding No. 3 (Smackover senior Sharnes McGhee). Chaney held her scoreless in three of the four quarters. Shania Smith also played well on offense. She hit some from outside and got to the lane drawing fouls.”
Smith was Monticello’s leading scorer Tuesday night with 18 points. Donald and Scott scored 14 points apiece and Brown chipped in with 10.