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Lakeland’s defense shuts down Hickory

All season long, Alan Jones has said his Lakeland girls basketball team would have to play excellent defense to have an improved season.

On Friday night against visiting Hickory, the Lady Cavaliers held the Lady Hawks to one made field goal in the first half and went on to a 41-27 win. With a 7-8 record, Lakeland’s already surpassed its win total from last season and Friday’s contest was a big step toward the goal of finishing the season with a winning record.

“Absolutely, that’s been a goal from the start, that and making regionals,” Jones said.

The Lady Cavaliers pulled away for good in the second period while holding Hickory to just two free throws in the eight minutes. After both sides started slowly offensively, Lakeland got going with a balanced inside-outside game.

Porshe Garner and Ashley Johnson scored in the paint while Tierra Armstrong added a couple jumpers and solid passing from the wing. A basket by a cutting Johnson from a assist by Armstrong, followed by Armstrong hitting a jumper pushed Lakeland’s lead to 14-7.

Garner scored four points, two from the foul line and two in the lane after Armstrong found her with a pass, for Lakeland’s last four points of the half and a 20-8 lead. Garner led the Lady Cavs with seven points in the half.

After the dominant second period, Lakeland committed a turnover and Hickory scored on a lay-up in the first 0:15 of the third period. Armstrong answered on Lakeland’s next possession, making a three-pointer from the right wing. Jones still called a timeout, 0:36 into the half, with Lakeland up 23-10.

Four players were running one play and one Lady Cavalier wasn’t on the same page, said Jones.

“She was running a different play than the rest of the team, so we had to call a timeout just to fix that. It was something we’d worked on all week in practice,” Jones said.

The Lady Cavaliers continued making every Hickory possession a hassle with their quickness and hustle. Even just a couple short bursts of Lakeland offense were enough to put the game out of reach.

Garner made an 18-foot shot from along the baseline, then Johnson stole the ball near Hickory’s foul line and drove all the way for a lay-up. The four straight points gave Lakeland a 31-14 lead late in the third quarter. The Lady Cavs led 33-16 going to the fourth period and 37-18 shortly into the last period.

Hickory scored five straight points, but Johnson scored twice after hustling to chase down offensive rebounds to rebuild Lakeland’s lead.

Lakeland kept a comfortable lead throughout the final few minutes despite a 14-3 foul disparity against the Lady Cavs in the second half. Even with Hickory getting plenty of foul shots, with Lakeland’s defense, Hickory totaled only seven made field goals for the game.

Garner led the Lady Cavaliers with 11 points and seven rebounds. Johnson totaled another double-double in a season that’s been full of them for Lakeland’ power forward. Johnson had 10 points, 13 rebounds and four steals. Armstrong had 10 points, six rebounds and four assists.

Jones had praise for swing player Brittney Hailes, who was in her first game back after having a tooth knocked out in Lakeland’s game against King’s Fork on Jan. 12. Hailes might not be a statistical leader for Lakeland, but she provides a lot says Jones.

“I’m thrilled Brittney’s back, were entirely different with her on the floor for us,” Jones said, “with her defense, rebounding and energy, our team’s different.”

“We’ve just go to continue to work harder. For so long, it’s been that way and we’re trying to change it,” Jones said.

Lakeland (7-8, 7-8) has clinched a spot in the eight-school Southeastern District Tournament, but could finish as high as the No. 4 seed depending how the last three games go. Lakeland plays at Grassfield Tuesday.