SMITHFIELD — Neuse Charter’s girls picked the wrong night to lose their shooting touch Tuesday night, falling to Carolina 1A Conference rival Hobbton, 57-38.
The Cougars, losers of 10 of their last 11 games, went on a nine-and-a-half-minute scoring drought, watching a 14-10 second-quarter lead dissipate into a 35-14 deficit en route to the loss.
What worked: An aggressive defense, at least for a period and a half. Despite a decisive size disadvantage, the Cougars held their own throughout most of the first half, as both struggling squads tried to find the basket.
Neuse Charter’s frontline of Dominique Dakin and Saykoyia Heath blocked several shots by the Wildcats, particularly those of 6-foot-1 center Nina Bell, enabling the Cougars to stay in the game.
The Cougars got enough inside penetration and second-chance opportunities to forge the 14-10 lead with 4:42 left in the half on a basket by Dakin, culminating a 7-0 Neuse Central run.
Dakin, who had all seven points in the surge and a team-leading 17 in the game, started the spree with a 3-pointer, then canned a jumper a minute later, giving the Cougars the lead for the last time.
What didn’t work: Outside shooting by the Cougars. Primarily a perimeter team, the Cougars use long-range shooting as a primary weapon to off-set the size disadvantages they face in their opposition.
Unfortunately, the Cougars only connected on six 3-pointers, and while Neuse Charter coach Daniel Casey said this was a normal total, the cold shooting was a detriment, not only in misses from the field, as well as limited chances on the free throw line.
The poor shooting also allowed the Wildcats to unleash Bell, held to four first-quarter points by the Cougars, to take charge of the game.
Bell scored the last 11 points of the half, lifting the Wildcats to a 21-14 halftime lead, and went on to finish the night with a game-high 30 points.
“She definitely found her stride,” Casey said. “We didn’t score enough and didn’t do enough defensively to slow her down.”
The lack of a transition game for the Cougars also opened the door for several other Wildcats players to pick apart Neuse Charter’s defense and win the battle of the boards.
That advantage had belonged to the Cougars in the first 12 minutes.
Bell and the Wildcats gradually stretched their advantage deep into the third quarter before Heath’s 3-pointer stopped a 25-0 run.
By the numbers: In addition to Dakin’s 17 points, she grabbed a team-high eight rebounds, while Heath added 11 points and seven boards.
Taylor Davis and Brianna Richardson chipped in five rebounds each.
But the story of the night was Bell, who recorded a double-double with 25 rebounds to go with her 30 points.
Unusual moment: Despite the long-distance woes by Neuse Charter’s shooters, the Cougars gave their fans a momentary thrill by hitting a 60-foot shot before the buzzer at the end of the third period.
Quotable: “We’re building a team,” Casey said of his team, which fell to 3-15 overall and 1-3 in the conference. “It’s our first year in a new conference and in the NCHSAA. We have a lot of growing pains in that situation. We only have one senior, and a good group of rising ninth graders.”