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Ole Brook’s season ends in loss — Lady Panthers’ fantastic season over in playoff game’s final 30 seconds

Outside the locker room, it was hard to think about next season. It was hard to think about anything.

The Lady Panthers came out one by one in their red warm-up suits, crying, and fell into the arms of teammates and coaches and parents, hurting inside from the 42-37 loss to Lafayette that ended their season in the 5A playoffs at Jackson State University Friday. Some couldn’t talk. Some didn’t want to.

But Junior Cynphoni Thompson was thinking about next season. She sat alone against the wall, letting the music from her headphones block it all out. She had dried up her tears and projected herself to November, eight months from now, when her senior basketball season will begin.

“This was our breakout season, to show what our program is going to be for years to come,” she said. “I love all my teammates. We’re going to get back in the gym and keep building where we left off. We’ll be back next year.”

It was a bold promise, but one that makes sense for a Lady Panthers squad that dominated November and December, then dominated Region 6-5A in January and February. This year’s Ole Brook girls ended the season at 24-7, winning three more games than the squads from the previous three seasons combined.

Senior Taylor Carter was there for all four of those seasons. She won’t be with the Lady Panthers next year when they return to Jackson for basketball in March, but she’ll be in the stands, cheering.

“We accomplished so much, more than we ever had in my four years,” Carter said. “Coach (Preston) Wilson taught us so much, and I thank him for what he’s done for our team. This team is my family. This is one thing I’ll never forget.”

The Lady Panthers did accomplish much this season, and were only 30 seconds away from accomplishing a trip to the 5A final four. That’s when the game, tight as a knot for more than 31 minutes, slipped away.

Lafayette’s lead was slender, 38-37, when the Lady Commodores pulled off the play of the game. Sophomore Azariah Buford stepped to the free throw line and hit one of two shots for a 39-37 lead, but the Lady Panthers didn’t close out the lane. Lafayette got an immediate put-back to lead 41-37 with 28 seconds remaining.

It took a long time for those 28 seconds to run off, as the Lady Panthers fouled numerous times in desperation. But all the fouling never produced the last chance Ole Brook needed. A few free throws were exchanged, but the game was done.

Those final plays proved to be the only real separation in the game. Brookhaven and Lafayette mirrored each other all game — the score was tied at 9 after one quarter, tied at 21 at halftime and tied at 31 to start the fourth. But the Lady Commodores kept scoring, putting 11 points on the board in the final period, while Ole Brook lost its offensive focus and scored only six.

It was not the kind of game the Lady Panthers wanted to play. The Ole Brook girls averaged nearly 53 points per game this season, and before Friday they had not scored fewer than 52 points since Christmas.

“We just came out at a slow pace,” said sophomore Silentianna Collins. “We couldn’t get our fast break, and we had to play at their pace.”

Lady Panthers coach Preston Wilson took the loss with grace. He didn’t offer any detailed analysis of Lafayette’s scheme or Brookhaven’s response. He just talked about the little things on which all basketball depends, and he talked about his girls.

“I’m very proud of this team. We have nothing to be ashamed of,” Wilson said. “The girls have come a long way and done a good job this season. This game was a growing experience for us.”

Junior Tamia Stallings led Ole Brook with a dozen points, and Collins followed closely with nine. Carter scored five, as did sophomore Ayanna McNairy. Thompson tossed in four points, and freshman Ashanti Louis scored two.

Buford led the Lady Commodores with 17 points, and junior Mariah Holland backed her up with 14. Junior Xhiir Burgess scored six points, while senior D’Ericka Booker scored three and sophomore Kimaya Dixon scored two.