West Lincoln completes comeback over Kemper County in 2A tourney

Published 10:00 am Monday, February 21, 2022

Mary Claire was money from the corner and West Lincoln is moving on to the third round.

Junior guard Mary Claire Johnson knocked down a corner 3-pointer with 1.4 seconds left Friday in West Lincoln’s MHSAA 2A second round matchup against Kemper County (13-7).

That final 1.4 second was the only time that West Lincoln (19-8) led Friday, but that was enough for a 40-37 win in Jack Case Gymnasium for the team from Flea Hop.

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“I knew it was going in, I just had that feeling,” said Johnson as she displayed a 1,000-watt smile on the court while her team celebrated with its fans and supporters.

The game winner was the culmination of an epic comeback by West Lincoln as the Lady Bears found themselves down soon after the opening tip.

Kemper County jumped up 5-0 as senior guard Zariyah Moss knifed through the West Lincoln man-to-man defense for layups at the rim.

KC led 9-5 after the first quarter but began to lengthen that lead out in the next eight minutes of action.

WL head coach Alissa Adams switched things up and had her team change to a zone defense in order to shut down the Kemper County dribbling threat.

Senior guard Neera Bell splashed down a pair of 3-pointers in the second quarter for Kemper County as her shots from deep helped her score a team high 14 points for the Lady Wildcats. Bell is a transfer from Choctaw Central who’s signed to play softball next season at Holmes Community College.

Kemper County, located 90 minutes southeast of Tuscaloosa in De Kalb, led 23-11 at halftime.

The home side of the Jack was packed with fans ready to cheer for the Lady Bears, but in the first two quarters, they had little reason to raise their voices.

The visitors from Kemper were doing their most damage on the defensive end of the court. They picked up in the full court and sometimes at the half court with traps that beleaguered the Bears. Passes from one player to another for West Lincoln on the perimeter that needed to travel more than 3-feet all seemed to be tipped or slapped away from the quick hands and feet of the Kemper County defense.

Adams let her team know after the first quarter that they better get used to the KC pressure, it wouldn’t let up and her team needed to respond.

“I told you they were quick,” she repeated in the timeout after the opening quarter. “I told you they would be fast, now get down and guard them and take care of the ball.”

To prepare in practice during the week, the West Lincoln starters had been going against seven or eight defenders at once to simulate the closing speed they’d see from the Lady Wildcat defense.

“Coach told us at halftime that we had to keep fighting through,” said Johnson.

Junior Kara Beth Addison is the leading scorer for West Lincoln and as a point-forward, she’s the straw that stirs the drink for the Lady Bears. She can guard smaller players on the perimeter or larger opponents inside. Addison can bring the ball down to set up the offense or post up inside when she’s got an advantage.

Addison had just four points in the first half, but she came alive after halftime and finished with a game high 19 points.

A 3-pointer by Addison that took a friendly bounce before rolling back through the basket started to wake up the Bear fans in attendance and then another 3-pointer on the next trip further stoked the fire.

A corner 3-pointer by Johnson sliced the Kemper advantage to 27-25 and the home fans were feeling the vibes of a building comeback in the third quarter.

Kemper County led 29-25 heading into the fourth quarter.

Bell made a long 3-pointer for Kemper County with 3:40 remaining that put her team up 35-27.

For many teams, that would have been enough to pack it in. However, West Lincoln — a team without a senior on the roster — never got the look of defeat in their eyes.

A basket and made free throw by Addison cut it to 37-33 with 1:44 left in the game.

West Lincoln was able to get the ball back on consecutive trips by drawing back-to-back charges in a series of plays that made their coach’s’ heart leap with joy.

“We practice taking charges and we actually practice it a lot,” said Adams. “Kara Beth drew one and Ta’Kyla “Moosy” Brothern drew one and that’s just selflessness. That’s what you want to see as a coach.”

Addison made two free throws to make the score 37-35 and then stole the ball at half court and drove in for a layup that tied the game at 37-37.

“In the first half we weren’t really playing as a team as we usually do,” said Addison. “Their pressure kind of shut us down. Coach told us in the second half we were going to have to come out and play the kind of ball that we’re capable of. We were way more aggressive in the second half.”

With possession of the ball and 80 seconds left, it looked like Kemper County would try and run the clock out and hold for one shot to try for the win.

Bell couldn’t shake her defender to receive the ball though. West Lincoln junior Ramsey Hall, the smallest player on the court, used a huge effort to shadow Bell and keep herself between the Kemper County point guard and the ball.

The inability to get Bell the ball sent the Kemper County offense into a bout of indecision and that resulted in a turnover. The ball was thrown ahead to Addison and when she crossed half court, Adams called a timeout.

There were 12 seconds remaining in the game and Adams went to work setting up the play that produced Johnson’s game-winner.

Kemper County played a 1-2-2 defensively and West Lincoln exploited holes in that formation throughout the second half.

“I’ve been my team all week that a triangle on offense beats a zone defense,” said Adams. “We set up a triangle with Madelyn Case at the top and we slashed Kara Beth through the lane, and I said if they pinch on Kara Beth, Mary Claire’s going to be wide open for the 3-pointer.”

Johnson was open, her shot was nothing but true and Jack Case Gymnasium rattled with the screams of celebration.

Brothern, Addison, Johnson, Hall and Case make up the WL starting lineup while Mailey Kate Young and Deanna Lofton are the first two subs off the bench for Adams.

Johnson finished with 12 points in the win — all coming on 3-poiners. Hall added five points while Young and Brothern scored two points each.

Next up is a third-round matchup — the round of eight — for West Lincoln at home Friday against Velma Jackson (19-9). Velma made the third round by beating North Forrest 72-69 on Friday. Other 2A third round games around the state include Calhoun City (28-1) at Belmont (25-5), New Site (26-9) at East Webster (22-7) and Newton (13-14) at Lake (21-3).