Mitch Lowder did everything he could to try and slow down Andrew Jackson center Alexxus Sowell. The one thing the North Central girls’ basketball coach could not do, though, was to make his post players taller.
Sowell, the Lady Volunteers’ 6-foot-3 sophomore center, scored a game-high 24 points while giving the hostesses fits as AJ left Boonetown with a 71-36 victory in a Region 4-AA pairing played Friday night inside The Castle.
Lowder tried to set his defense up to try and limit Sowell’s damage in the paint area but without a player nearing the AJ center’s physical stature, it proved to be a futile endeavor.
"At any level, even college," said the veteran NC head coach, "when you have a 6-foot-3 girl, you can do a lot with a player like that. They like to post her up and we tried to front her, have a player behind her and get a hand in her face. She’s a good ballplayer now, and she’s going to get better in the future."
Sowell scored six points in a first quarter in which AJ jumped to an 8-0 lead before NC cut the deficit in half with back-to-back jumpers from Andrea Knight and Alexis Baker. But Sowell was too tough down low as she put back a pair of misses to help the defending AA Upper State champions to a 15-7 lead over their nearby rivals who were already getting into early foul problems, especially along the front court.
"We got behind early, plus we got into foul trouble which was tough for us," Lowder said.
NC opened the game in a triangle and two defensive scheme sending chasers on AJ guards Summer Vick and Elizabeth Scott who scored one first quarter point between them with Scott hitting a free throw. Things were different in the second stanza as Vick went off for nine of AJ’s 23 second quarter points as the guests built a comfortable 38-14 lead at intermission.
"I thought we played pretty good defense," Lowder said of his team’s effort. "What killed us was our offense. We were taking quick shots. Our game plan was to hold the ball and be selective with our shots. We didn’t do that tonight and we dug ourselves a hole in the first half that we had a hard time coming out of."
AJ closed the first half on a 7-0 run and led, 42-14, after opening the third quarter with baskets from Sowell and Brantley Ussery. NC used an Alexis Baker trey at the 6:55 marker before the Lady Vols went on a 13-0 spree to hike their advantage to 59-17. The Lady Knights closed the third quarter with a pair of eight-foot jumpers from Knight as they trailed, 59-21.
The Lady Vols were relentless in putting more distance between themselves and NC as they went on a 10-3 tear to begin the fourth quarter. Three-point jumpers from Taylor Robinson and Nyasia Joe brought NC to within 69-27.
Things ended on a positive note for NC which scored the game’s final nine points in less than three minutes. Robinson had five of her team’s points during that stretch while leading the Lady Knights with 11 points.
AJ improved to a Region 4-AA-best 3-0 with the win and looks to be the team to beat in the seven-team circuit.
"They’re the top team in the region," Lowder admitted."One thing about Andrew Jackson is that they have a great coach in Dennis Farmer; he knows what to do with his talent. That makes it tough to beat them."
Following the setback, Lowder met with his girls and praised their efffort and said had they had a similar effort in some of the previous games, they would have more than the four wins they currently have.
"We played hard and got after it," Lowder said after a night in which his girls were outsized by AJ. "I saw some good things and saw things that we can work on. As long as we keep working hard, that’s all I can ask of our girls. Hopefully, we can get some wins from that.
"We have nothing to be ashamed of. We just have to keep playing hard and eventually, good things are going to happen for us."
AJ (71): NC (36): Score by quarters:
AJ (71):Mary Kelsie Broughton 3 0-0 6, Brantley Ussery 3 2-2 8, Alexxus Sowell 11 2-4 24, Elizabeth Scott 2 1-2 5, Hailley Burton 1 0-0 2, Jerrisha Crawford 3 0-0 6, Summer Vick 3 3-5 9, Marketta McIlwain 1 0-0 2, Danielle Ussery 3 0-0 6, Rae ashlie Broughton 1 0-0 3. Totals: 31 8-13 71
NC (36):Andrea Knight 4 0-2 8, Taylor Robinson 4 2-4 11, Alexis Baker 2 3-4 9, Nyasia Joe 3 1-4 8, Caroline Dixon 0 0-4 0. Totals: 13 6-15 36
Score by quarters:First: AJ, 15-7; Halftime: AJ, 38-14; Third: AJ, 59-21; Three-point goals: AJ 1 (R. Broughton), NC 4 (Baker 2, Joe, Robinson)