Shon Thomaston walked off the floor at the Macon Coliseum and took a glace up at the scoreboard hanging over the court.
“Behind four points,” Thomaston thought, “I’ll take it.”
After the way his team played in the first half, the Carrollton head coach felt fortunate to even be close to No. 7 Rutland in the GHSA Class AAA semifinals Friday.
The fourth-ranked Trojans (31-2) emerged from the half with a renewed aggression, sprinting away from the Hurricanes (26-5) with runs of 28-7 and 23-9 for a 68-51 win and a spot in today’s AAA championship game.
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“They just used the momentum they got late in the first half to continue to hurt us in the second half,” Rutland head coach Johnny Dixon said. “They came out ready to play in the third quarter.”
After shooting 5-of-30 from the floor in the first half — and 1-of-25 on jump shots — Carrollton started its transformation late in the second quarter. The Trojans’ leading scorer, Karisma Boykin, drove into the lane to draw fouls on three of Carrollton’s possessions at the end fo the half. The Lady Hurricanes’ nine-point lead slipped to four points after the Trojans made 6-of-8 free throws to close the half.
“We should have been behind by 15, and those points at the end of the half cut it to four,” Thomaston said. “We talked about locking down defensively, getting to the basket and sticking to the script.”
The Trojans opened the third quarter on a 20-4 run, with most of the offense coming from senior Janyce Ealey.
The 5-foot-9 forward scored 14 consecutive points during one stretch of the third quarter by attacking the baskets and finishing off layups. She also stepped out for a 3-pointer and two other mid-range jumpers.
“They were just too physical for us,” Dixon said. “They wore us down inside, and (Ealey) hurt us.”
Said Thomaston, “I’m happy she got to shine on a stage this big. We live out in the sticks, and she doesn’t get as much attention as she should.”
The Lady Canes fell behind by 12 points after struggling to take care of the ball. They got off three shots in the first four minutes of the second half and turned the ball over 10 times in the quarter.
But Rutland had one run left in it.
The Lady Canes started to chip away at the Carrollton lead and cut it to three points when Alisha Ivry converted a three-point play to cap a 9-0 run. They cut the Trojans’ lead back to three points again on a free throw by Tae Smith at the start of the fourth quarter, but that was as close as Rutland got.
Ealey answered the free throw with a 3-pointer and the Trojans went on to finish the quarter on a 23-9 run.
Carrollton shot 8-of-12 from the floor in the fourth quarter and 18-of-30 in the second half.
“We just stopped shooting jumpers,” Thomaston said. “Our game is letting our defense create our offense, and we did that in the second half.”
Kendra Grant led Rutland with 14 points and nine rebounds in her final prep game. The senior has played with a stress fracture in her leg for most of the season. But she aggravated it late in the season, and it got progressively worse. She limped noticeably during pregame warm-ups and grimaced most of the game.
“I tried to ice it a lot, rest it a lot,” Grant said. “It just got worse. It was hurting, but you just have to push through it.”
Said Dixon, “She gave 110 percent effort as far as her body would allow her. She did all she could for us.”
CARROLLTON 68, RUTLAND 51
Rutland 13 14 13 11—51
Carrollton 10 13 22 23—68
Rutland: Tae Smith 13, Kendra Grant 14, Brittany Brooks 6, Shaketa Hodges 11, Zonesha Davis 4, Alisha Ivry 3.
Carrollton: Janyce Ealey 33, Karisma Boykin 20, Kelsi Billings 8, Alyssa Jones 5, Quanisha Bray 1, Katisa Ridley 1.
3-pointers: Carrollton 2 (Ealey).
Records: Rutland 26-5, Carrollton 31-2.