The tournament’s only undefeated team found full-court pressure the likes of which they hadn’t previously seen…and lost in the Division III semis to Columbus Africentric.
Columbus – In the end, the highly anticipated appearance of the state’s only undefeated team in this weekend’s tournament, the Ironton Lady Tigers, left more to imagination and little to support the anticipation.
Ironton, which struggled all day with Columbus Africentric’s speed, depth, and pressure defense, shot a miserable 26% from the floor and ultimately fell to the four-time state champions (2014, ’12, ’09, ’07). Final score: 63-34.
The previously undefeated Tigers simply stood too much, watching their best player, all-everything senior Lexie Barrier, handle the ball, shoot the ball, and defend the post against Africentric’s constant harassing, and relentless, attack.
The stated strengths of the Fighting Tigers turned out to be their weaknesses on Thursday.
On offense they wanted to get the ball to Barrier in the post, where she had done damage to the tune of 18.1 points per game during the regular season. They could not…without drawing a swarming defensive response from the Lady Nubians.
They wanted to dictate the pace of the game…play fast. They could not, and ended up trying to match the pace and pressure of Africentric.
They wanted to attack the rim. But Africentric’s full-court defense frustrated Ironton, got into their heads. Instead of attacking the rim, they found it hard too often to crack the time line. When they did get into their offense, they had to settle for perimeter jump shots. Playing on tired legs, they short-armed many of those attempts.
They wanted to create points off their own attacking defense. But in fact, it was Africentric who turned up the heat and scored 22 points in transition off turnovers.
Nothing turned out as they had hoped.
Ironton led for the first 14 minutes of the game. But a three-point play with 2:05 left in the second quarter game Africentric a lead they would never relinquish.
In fact, they built upon it. Leading 27-20 at the half, they outscored Ironton 10-4 in the third, and 26-10 in the fourth against an obviously tired Tiger defense.
The game was physical, and the officials let it run its course.
“Our pressure hurt ’em,” said Africentric coach Will McKinney. “And we did some things with the zone defense that I’m sure they hadn’t seen during the tournament. I think that that tripped ’em up a little bit.”
A disappointed Ironton coach, Doug Graham, struggled with the emotions of the moment.
“It didn’t go the way we wanted it to,” he said. “But my girls didn’t quit. They battled all the way.”
Senior Cheyenne Scott, punctuated the attitude of seeing destiny come up empty.
“Great season,” she added. “Great season, great team, great coach and a great town to support us. Everything has to come to an end, even the things you want to last.”
Ironton completed its historic season (the first undefeated in school history) with 27-1 mark. In five trips now to the state tournament they’ve yet to win.
Africentric, will play Marion Pleasant in Saturday’s Division III championship game with a 23-5 record. Making their eighth all-time appearance in the state semi-finals Thursday…they’ve yet to lose.
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