Missing 19 of its first 22 shots from the floor set the Africentric Early College girls basketball team up for a battle against Waynesville in the Division III state championship game March 16 at Ohio State.
It didn’t help that senior guard and Tennessee-signee Jordan Horston ended up in urgent care the day before the game with a 102-degree temperature.
The Nubians’ shooting never really came around and Horston played but struggled from the floor, but their ability to control the boards and force contested shots ultimately was enough to help them prevail 51-47.
The win gave Africentric its seventh state championship, including its second in a row and third in four seasons. The Nubians finished 28-0, marking the first undefeated season in program history.
“It’s bittersweet,” Horston said. “(The doctor) told me my body probably wasn’t going to let me play. I’m just proud we got the win in my last high school game.”
Even though Africentric was limited to 5-for-26 shooting in the first half, Alexia Smith hit a 3-pointer with seven seconds remaining before halftime to give the Nubians an 18-15 lead.
A 3-pointer by Lynzie Hartshorn cut Waynesville’s deficit to 22-18 with 6:37 left in the third quarter, but Africentric answered with a 15-3 run that featured eight points from Arianna Smith and a 3-pointer by Horston.
The Nubians led 39-24 after three quarters, but the Spartans got eight points from Marcella Sizer and four from Rachel Murray early in the fourth to cut their deficit to 43-37 with 4:14 remaining.
Horston scored the Nubians’ next six points as they went up 49-40 with 1:42 left. The Spartans didn’t get within four points until Murray made a pair of free throws with 3.3 seconds remaining.
Horston went just 3-for-20 from the floor but made eight of 10 free throws and finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and two steals. Arianna Smith had 11 points and six rebounds, Maliyah Johnson had seven points and 13 rebounds and Alexia Smith added six points and seven rebounds.
Murray had 15 points and Sizer had 13 points and 12 rebounds for Waynesville, which finished 27-1.
While Africentric made just 15 of 55 shots from the floor, the Spartans attempted just 32 shots, making 12, and were outrebounded 46-24.
“Man, we picked a heck of a time to have our worst shooting game ever in the history of the program at this state championship,” Nubians coach Will McKinney said. “We shot terrible, but give Waynesville some credit. They had a lot to do with that. That being said, after shooting terrible and not playing our best game, to figure out a way to come out with a win against a well-coached team was really a fitting end to our season.”