PERRY -- Perry’s first appearance in the GHSA girls basketball playoffs in 12 years was a short one.
Westover outscored the Panthers 13-2 late in the third quarter and on into the fourth Tuesday night on its way to a 37-30 victory in the first round of the GHSA Class AAAA playoffs. The Patriots (18-11) scored the final basket of the third quarter and the first two of the fourth to take the lead for good, then pulled away with seven straight in the stretch to advance.
Perry (16-12) still had a chance in the final 40 seconds, trailing 36-30 when Westover missed the front end of three straight bonus foul shooting situations, but the Panthers couldn’t convert on offense.
“We gave ourselves a chance when they missed, but we couldn’t get anything to fall,” said Perry head coach Reginald West, whose team managed just four points in the final quarter. “We settled for 3-point tries there instead of attacking the basket. But they had a good defensive plan that caused us problems.
“We just couldn’t get anything to fall.”
After struggling early against Perry’s combination of zone defenses, Westover finally hit a couple of shots from 3-point range in the second half. That allowed the Patriots to find some gaps in the zone to get the ball into the lane for some easier chances.
“We settled for the outside shot and didn’t show a lot of patience,” Westover head coach Lewis Smith said. “They mixed up those zones, and we didn’t handle it every well. Once we got some touches and people into the gaps, it made a difference.”
Bryshea Jackson led the Patriots with 10 points, while Nyla Perry added nine on a trio of 3-pointers, and Kayla Howard 8. Tatoya Owens had 12 points to lead Perry with Kirondria Smith adding 10, including a pair of 3s.
Smith had half of her total on a run of eight straight points at the end of the first half and the outset of the second to give Perry its biggest lead of the night at 20-13. Perry then began and ended a 10-2 surge by the Patriots with two 3-pointers for a 23-22 lead with 3:18 left in the third quarter.
“Their long-range shooter hit a couple, and that gave them the momentum they needed,” West said. “And it seemed like our end had a lid on the basket. We were just ice cold.”
The Panthers responded with consecutive baskets to lead 26-23 before Howard began what proved to be the game’s key spurt with a layup in the final seconds of the third quarter.
“They were able to penetrate the teeth of our defense in the second half,” West said. “They used a dribble drive and flashed into the gaps and to the elbow.”
Said Smith, “We showed some patience and got the ball to people in the right places. And we were able to get some stops when the offense started producing. That was big after we missed those free throws. They just didn’t get anything to fall on their end or it could have been different.”
The loss ended a turnaround season for Perry, which won a total of 10 games the previous two seasons. The Panthers toppled perennial region power Mary Persons in the region semifinals to finish runner-up to Veterans.
“I told the girls there’s a lot to be proud of in this season,” West said. “There were a lot of other teams before them that would’ve loved to have accomplished what they did.”