Franklin County falls 70-63

Published 11:55 pm Saturday, February 27, 2010

JACKSON — Like special teams in football, free throw shooting can be the most overlooked, but vitally important part of a basketball game.

And that was never more the case than in the semifinals of the MHSAA Class 3A State Tournament.

The Belmont Lady Cardinals hit 9-of-12 free throws in the final 2:15 to pull away from the Franklin County Lady Bulldogs and post a 70-63 win.

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During that same time span, the Lady Bulldogs only connected on 2-of-5 free throws, which allowed Belmont to turn a two-point game with 1:27 remaining into a seven-point victory.

“I think we missed eight free throws in the game, and seven of them were in the fourth quarter,” Franklin County coach Charles Moore said. “That made a huge difference. Belmont, to their credit, made their free throws.”

The best example of how the free throw difference played a part in the outcome came with 1:27 remaining.

Belmont had a 62-59 lead and Franklin County’s Cee Cee Miller went to the free throw line.

She hit the first free throw, but missed the second and Franklin County was called for an over-the-back foul on the rebound.

Belmont’s Morgan Pearson then stepped to the line and nailed two free throws to put the Lady Cardinals up 64-60.

Miller than missed a 3-pointer on Franklin County’s next possession and the Lady Bulldogs were once again called for an over-the-back foul.

This time, Leslie Robinson made them pay, swishing two free throws with 1:01 remaining.

Belmont would hit four more free throws in the final minute to ice the game.

“We hit 12-of-15 free throws in the fourth quarter,” Belmont coach Chris Higginbottom said. “That really sealed the deal.”

But that always hasn’t been the case for the Lady Cardinals.

“The game that motivates us the most was our loss to New Site, which is our only loss,” Higginbottom said. “We were 13-for-30 from the free throw line and missed our first nine free throws.

“I told the girls anytime you miss nine free throws, it’s like nine turnovers. From that point on, the girls have really challenged each other and said that’s not going to happen again. They hear me tell them every day that a game may come down to one free throw, so let’s step up and make it.”

But the way the game started, it didn’t look like the score would be close enough in the fourth quarter for free throws to matter.

Belmont exploded out of the gates and looked like they would run Franklin County out of the Mississippi Coliseum.

Belmont led by as much as 21-7 and had a 22-9 lead at the end of the first quarter.

“You can’t win them in the first quarter, but you sure can lose them in the first quarter,” Moore said. “We may have been pressing too much to get the ball inside. We didn’t go through the offense like I wanted us to.”

Franklin County battled back furiously, however, and outscored Belmont 27-10 in the second quarter to take a 36-32 lead at halftime.

However, Franklin County’s comeback came with a price, as Miller picked up her third foul late in the second quarter.

“We dug ourselves a big hole,” Moore said. “To climb our way out, we had to be more aggressive on defense than we wanted to be, and that put us in foul trouble.”

Miller picked up her fourth foul early in the third quarter and finished the game with only five points.

“It was a big momentum changer for us not to have (Miler) in there,” Moore said. “She does a great job offensively and on the boards. When you lose one of your leading scorers, that makes a big difference.”

Franklin County took a six-point lead early in the third quarter, but Belmont battled back and retook the lead at 47-46 with 2:10 remaining in the third quarter.

The Lady Cardinals led 51-48 at the end of the third.

Franklin County kept battling back in the fourth quarter, but every time they would close in, Belmont would make a play to keep the Lady Bulldogs at bay.

The final big shot from Belmont came from Zoe Hammock.

After Franklin Conty’s Leondra Shaw drove in for a layup that tied the score at 55, Hammock nailed a deep three from the wing that gave Belmont a lead with 3:30 remaining that they would not relinquish.

“(Hammock’s) 3-point percentage is in the upper 40s,” Higginbottom said. “When she gets an open look, she’s going to make it. We depend on her a lot and she came through.”

Hammock led Belmont with 25 points while Anna Brooke Page finished with 16 and Angelia Allen had 10.

Shaw led Franklin County with 18 points while Vintrice Briggs scored 16 and Kierra Collins tallied 15.