Lady Billies drop two holiday games, head into 2019 at .500

It wasn’t exactly Destin, Fla., as the schedule said, but Monticello’s senior girls did take a holiday trip south and east after Christmas.
Because of circumstances beyond their control, the Lady Billies didn’t participate in the prestigious Hilton Sandestin Beach Basketball Blowout, but instead played in the annual Pepsi Jackson Public Schools Holiday Basketball Tournament in Jackson, Miss.
Monticello faced two of the better JPS girls’ squads and fell in both games. Last Wednesday, the Lady Billies matched their worst loss of the season, dropping a 69-49 decision to Jackson Murrah. The next afternoon, Jackson Provine got the better of Monticello 58-50.
The Lady Billies finished the 2018 portion of their schedule at .500 (6-6), and the new year doesn’t start any easier for Monticello. Friday, nemesis Star City stands in the way of opening 2019 on a winning note. The Lady Billies defeated the Lady Bulldogs twice a year ago—in the semifinals of the Classs 4A, District 8 tournament and in the championship game of the 4A South Region tourney, but this is an entirely different Monticello team, head coach Bobby Lewallen was quick to point out.
“We lost six players from last year’s team,” Lewallen said, “and Star City has everyone returning. The last four matchups with them have been exciting games, and a lot of fun to coach. Hopefully, we can step up to the challenge and play well. We will have to play much better than we did last week.”
Three games (junior girls and both senior teams) tip off at 5 p.m. Friday in Star City. The Monticello-Star City game will be the first of 11 consecutive 8-4A outings for Lewallen’s bunch, which heads north at 1-0 in league play.
In Mississippi last week, Monticello was simply overmatched against the much taller Lady Mustangs in its first tournament game. Murrah’s entire 12-girl roster was taller than all but two Lady Billies who see any appreciable playing time—including two six-footers for which Lewallen said his team just wasn’t prepared.  
“I think we were a little intimidated by their size,” he noted. “They were able to keep two players that were six feet or taller on the floor at all times—and sometimes they had three bigs. We played scared in the first half and turned the ball over too much. In the second half, we played better.”
The game’s statistics would back the coach’s statement up entirely. Murrah raced out to a 19-3 lead after eight minutes and held an insurmountable 40-20 advantage at intermission. After halftime, Monticello matched the Lady Mustangs point-for-point but the damage had been done in the game’s early stages.
The Lady Billies managed to hold 6-foot-2 junior Courtney Bradford scoreless, 5-10 junior Madysen Washington to a single free throw and 5-10 sophomore Tyraven Mowan to just six points—but didn’t have an answer for 6-1 senior Asya Johnson.
Johnson scored a team-high 26 points, including 12 in the second quarter alone. Senior guard Chaney Scott, listed at just 5-6, nevertheless led Monticello with a game-high 28 points, including three of the Lady Billies’ six made three-point shots, which equaled Murrah’s entire squad.
Scott, however was the lone Monticello player to reach double figures as only five Lady Billies found their ways into the scoring column. The next day, Lewallen said, was a different story.   
“We jumped out to a 13-3 lead against Provine and just stopped scoring,” he noted. “I was very disappointed in our effort. We let them beat us for layups, were careless with the ball and didn’t run our zone offense correctly one single time.”
The Lady Rams scored the final eight points of the first period to trail only 13-11 at the end of the quarter, and used that momentum to outscore Monticello in the other three periods. By halftime, Provine had assumed a 29-27 advantage, then bested the Lady Billies by three points in both the third and fourth quarters.
Senior Shania Smith led Monticello in scoring with 19 points against the Lady Rams, while classmates Scott (16 points) and Mayela Escamilla (11) also reached double figures. The lone bright spot for the Lady Billies was outscoring Provine 11-3 from the free-throw line and committing only 11 fouls against the Lady Rams.

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