Oscar Smith rally takes game from Lady Cavs

Published 9:30 pm Wednesday, December 3, 2008

That the Lakeland High girls basketball team has clearly improved from last season was little consolation to Terika Lunsford on Tuesday night. Sitting in the front row of the bleachers at the Cavaliers’ home gym, the standout forward choked up while discussing her squad’s 54-51 overtime loss to Oscar Smith in a season and Southeastern District opener.

“We had a couple of simple things we did wrong,” said Lunsford, one of the district’s best players. “We’ll get it together.”

That Lakeland was even in the game down to the wire is a huge step forward from last season, when the Cavaliers finished 6-16 overall and 5-13 in district play. But what was gnawing at Lunsford and her teammates was knowing they were so close to victory.

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Lakeland led 38-29 after three quarters and didn’t trail until Oscar Smith scored the first basket of overtime to go up 48-46. The Tigers sank just 6 of 31 field goal attempts through three quarters but then hit 9 of 16 in the fourth quarter, including Canisha Swift’s 3-point shot with 32 seconds remaining that created a 46-46 tie. That heave was Oscar Smith’s only attempted trey after halftime and its only successful one all evening.

Alan Jones, Lakeland’s second-year coach, said his players needlessly rushed themselves, even after they opened a sizable lead. Instead of carefully moving the ball up the floor and eating up time as they looked for good shot opportunities, the Cavaliers played a helter-skelter style that created 33 turnovers.

“When we were up by 10 points, I don’t think we controlled the tempo of the game,” said Jones, whose team is at Deep Creek on Friday. “We took too many quick shots and gave them a chance to get back in the game. We had chances to shut the door and didn’t do it.”

The first uneasy feeling might have come when point guard Kaylyn Chatman missed an uncontested layup as the first-half horn sounded. Nonetheless, the hosts still held a 24-19 lead. But the sensation intensified by the fourth quarter, when the Cavaliers managed only two field goals and eight points.

Lakeland’s possession after Swift’s 3-point shot ended when defensive pressure forced Lunsford to turn the ball over on a half-court violation. Chatman had the ball bounce off her fingertips on what would have been a mid-court steal a few seconds later and the Cavaliers inbounded the ball under the Oscar Smith basket with 3.1 and 2.0 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter but couldn’t produce a shot.

The Tigers went up 50-46 in overtime before Quanisha Knight sank both ends of a 1 and 1 opportunity and Lunsford stepped to the free throw line for two shots. However, she missed the second, leaving her team down 50-49, and Oscar Smith scored two more baskets, the second off a Porshe Garner turnover on an inbounds pass.

Chatman sank two free throws to pull Lakeland within 54-51 with 40 seconds to play in overtime. After the Tigers missed their third and fourth free throws of the extra session, Lunsford was fouled while driving the lane and had the chance to pull the Cavaliers within a point with 23 seconds remaining.

Lunsford couldn’t convert either shot and although Oscar Smith missed two more shots from the charity stripe, Chatman’s desperation 3-point shot from the corner rimmed out with three seconds left.

Lunsford produced a game-high 24 points and Chatman added 11. Oscar Smith’s Swift and Siohban Beslow each had 12 points and Kanesha Johnson had 11. The Tigers made 13 of 36 free throws.