Eastern Alamance’s women’s basketball team hosted Southeast Guilford Thursday night in the second round of the NCHSAA 3A state playoffs inside Tal Jobe Gymnasium. The undefeated Eagles blew out Harnett Central in Tuesday night’s opening round, while Southeast Guilford went on the road and upset Rocky Mount in the first game of the postseason. The Falcons came to Mebane with a big, physical squad, but they were no match for the reigning Mid-State Conference champions.
Utilizing their typical strengths of speed, aggressive defense, and pushing a fast tempo, the Eagles broke out to a double-digit lead in the opening minutes on their way to a 59-44 victory, which pushes the 13-0 Eagles into the state quarterfinal round. Eastern will next play on Saturday, again at home in Mebane, against Asheboro. Asheboro, the No. 7 seed in the East Region, stunned No. 2 seed D.H. Conley Thursday night 64-61, giving D.H. Conley its first and only loss of the season. Asheboro will come to Mebane Saturday with a perfect 13-0 record.
As they’ve been doing throughout the winter, Eastern got off to a fast start, using their intense perimeter defense to get high-percentage scoring opportunities early in the game.
Nyree Ball got the first basket for Southeast Guilford, but Laila Anderson buried a 3-pointer to give the Eagles an early 3-2 lead. Amiyah Evans followed with a nice inside pass to Hali Watkins and the Eagles had a 5-2 advantage. Evans stretched the EAHS advantage to 7-3 with a pair of free throws, and a Watkins steal and pass ahead to Anderson made the count 9-3.
The bigger Falcons dominated the glass early on, picking up numerous offensive rebounds in the first quarter. But they couldn’t take advantage. Following Watkins’ first basket of the night, Eastern forced another Southeast Guilford turnover, which lead to a driving basket by Watkins. Watkins was fouled on her basket and missed the potential 3-point play free throw, but Makayla Thompson grabbed an offensive rebound and scored on a putback.
Moments later, following yet another EAHS forced turnover, Watkins made a free throw for a commanding 14-3 advantage. Southeast Guilford converted an offensive rebound putback and a mid-lane runner to close out the period, but the Eagles took a 14-7 lead into the second quarter.
After the Falcons scored again for a 6-0 run to cut the EAHS advantage to 14-9, Kyra Jones swished back-to-back 3-pointers for the Eagles, pushing the lead back out to 20-9. A pair of Anderson free throws made the score 22-9, and then the Eastern junior point guard forced a steal. Anderson missed a chance at a coast-to-coast layup, but Watkins, racing behind her upcourt, grabbed the offensive board and converted a quick putback. Watkins’ layin gave Eastern a 15-point lead - 24-9 - to force a Southeast Guilford timeout with 5:07 left in the first half.
Anderson continued Eastern’s stellar defensive start midway through the second quarter by intercepting a Southeast Guilford pass and drawing a foul on the other end. Anderson’s pair of free throws made the count 26-9 in favor of the Eagles. Following five straight Falcons points, Watkins made a brilliant baseline pass to Evans for another EAHS score.
Eastern’s hot shooting continued, as sophomore Tashawna Garner drilled a 3-pointer with under two minutes left in the second quarter for a 31-16 lead. Anderson buried a wide open jumper at the 1:10 mark for a 33-17 EAHS lead, and while Southeast Guilford scored the final four points of the half, the Eagles took a commanding 33-21 advantage into the locker rooms for halftime. Anderson finished the first half with 11 points, while Watkins added seven points, and Jones six points with her pair of 3-pointers.
Southeast Guilford rallied to start the second half, scoring eight straight points for a 12-0 run since EAHS jumped out to a 16-point lead in the final minutes of the second quarter. With the lead whittled down to just 33-29, the Eagles faced their first gut check since the Western Alamance game on the road in midseason.
Anderson came through with a clutch baseline jumper to end a four-plus minute scoring drought, and to make the score 35-29 in favor of the Eagles. Then Jones came through with yet another long-range shot, burying a 3-pointer to extend the lead back out to 38-29. EAHS continued its surge as Thompson got fouled in the paint and sank a pair of free throws to push the lead back out to double digits at 40-29. Then Anderson forced a steal and converted a nifty left-handed layin to give Eastern a 9-0 run and a 13-point lead, 42-29.
Eastern continued to push the tempo, with Garner passing ahead to Anderson, who drew a foul and made another pair of free throws. Eastern’s 11-0 run stretched the lead back out to 15 points. Ginia Lawson disrupted a Southeast Guilford shot around the basket, and following some missed shots, Evans drew a foul and converted a shot from the free throw line. What was a narrow 4-point edge moments earlier was just as quickly turned back into a 16-point lead at 45-29 with under two minutes left in the third quarter. Southeast Guilford finally snapped Eastern’s 12-0 run with a couple free throws, but the Eagles took a 45-31 lead into the fourth quarter.
Following a partially-blocked shot, Anderson got the ball in transition and made the score 47-31 Eagles, and seconds later Thompson grabbed a missed EAHS shot for an offensive rebound score and a 49-31 Eastern advantage - its biggest of the night to that point with just under six minutes left.
Southeast got within 49-34 with just over five minutes remaining, but Garner scored for the Eagles as the two squads traded baskets for a couple of minutes. Anderson was fouled at the 4:23 mark, and her first free throw conversion gave her 20 points for the evening. A second made free throw gave the Eagles a 53-36 lead.
Watkins scored her first points of the second half on a flashy drive through the lane, and then drove the lane again and found Evans to give EAHS a 57-39 cushion. Another Watkins layup made the count 59-44 around the 2:30 mark, which closed out the scoring for both teams. As the socially-distanced crowd cheered down the final minutes, the Eagles successfully ran out the clock for their 15-point triumph.
Anderson led the way offensively for Eastern with 21 points, while Watkins added 11 points, and Jones nine points. Evans added seven points, while Thompson tallied six points and Garner five points. The victory improves Eastern’s overall record to 13-0 heading into Saturday’s state quarterfinal round.