Watching a nine-point halftime lead disappear midway through the fourth quarter didn’t rattle the Africentric Early College girls basketball team in the Division III state championship game March 17 against Versailles at Ohio State.
The Nubians returned to a familiar formula — forcing the action with pressure defense — to reclaim control.
With back-to-back baskets that came off turnovers, Africentric turned a momentary one-point deficit into a three-point lead, and then went 4-for-4 from the free-throw line during the final 30 seconds on the way to a 53-47 victory over the No. 1-ranked team in the final state poll.
The Nubians, who closed the regular season ranked sixth in the state, captured their sixth state championship in 15 seasons and finished 27-3.
Versailles finished 28-2.
“When they took the lead on us, we knew we had some time on the clock,” Nubians coach Will McKinney said. “It was about us settling down, and shortly after that, we scored four points in a row. It wasn’t something we panicked about.”
After a layup by Lindsey Winner gave Versailles a 43-42 lead with five minutes left, the Nubians followed a timeout with a steal by Alexia Smith that turned into a putback basket by Jordan Horston.
On the ensuing possession, Horston stole the ball and passed to Smith, who scored on a layup to give the Nubians a 46-43 lead.
Versailles, which finished just 7-for-16 from the free-throw line, cut its deficit to 46-44 when Danielle Winner made the second of two foul shots with 3:33 remaining. After Africentric stretched its advantage to 49-44 with a basket by Smith and a free throw by Horston, the Tigers’ Caitlin McEldowney hit a 3-pointer with 37 seconds left.
The Nubians’ Nyam Thornton then made two free throws with 28 seconds remaining and Iyanna Hairston hit a pair of foul shots with 18 seconds left to seal the victory.More video
•Africentric coach Will McKinney
Africentric led 15-8 after the first quarter and 30-21 at halftime.
“Before the game we talked about some of our goals,” Horston said. “One of those was that we weren’t going to get off to a bad start.”
Smith finished with 22 points, four rebounds and two steals, Horston had 13 points, eight rebounds, two assists and two steals and Thornton added nine points and three steals to lead the Nubians.
Versailles, which committed 17 turnovers, got 16 points from Kami McEldowney but made just 17 of 44 shots from the floor.
“You can try to prepare for (Africentric’s pressure) all you want, but until you face it, it’s a totally different ballgame,” Tigers coach Jacki Stonebraker said.